Posts Tagged ‘Sleep’

Work Matters – Robert I. Sutton

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

Robert Sutton, on his Work Matters blog lists “Seventeen Things I Believe,” along with a lot of other good ideas.  Here is my very brief summary:

Sometimes it’s best to stand back and not manage, innovation often happens despite senior management rather than because of it.  (Extraordinary Contempt and Defiance Beyond the Normal Call of Engineering Duty, Weird Ideas That Work: 11 1/2 Practices for Promoting, Managing, and Sustaining Innovation by Robert I. Sutton, and Management By Getting Out of the Way

Fight groupthink. (Groupthink – Wikipedia) 

People can care too much as well as care too little; you have to reach a happy middle ground.  If you care too much you might not be able to see the flaws in your plan, also you won’t let go of unimportant details. (Why Indifference is as Important as Passion)

In organizations you can have influence over others or you can have freedom from them. (Managing With Power: Politics and Influence in Organizations by Jeffrey Pfeffer). 

Learning to listen to others and to ask smart questions are often more important than giving smart answers. (Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths And Total Nonsense: Profiting From Evidence-Based Management by Jeffrey Pfeffer)  

We create self-fulfilling expectations, and what we think is a part of human nature is often actually the result of a social norm. 

The only way you can be confident you will succeed is to do something that’s been done before and isn’t new.  If some business idea is new it will probably fail.  But paradoxically if you think this way you will likely self-sabotage, because then failure will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.  So once you’ve committed to some new idea, you should forget about your chances, become delusional, and convince yourself you can’t fail!  (Decide To Do Something That Will Probably Fail, Then Convince Yourself And Everyone Else That Success is Certain)  

You have to be open to facts that clash with your opinions.  Learn how to fight for what you think is right, but listen to see if you’re wrong. (Strong Opinions, Weakly Held

Getting power can turn some people into jerks.  People with power are more likely to become largely oblivious to what others think, use stereotypes, and misread their reactions.  They are also more likely to focus on satisfying their own appetites, become overly optimistic, and more risk taking.  They even underestimate dangers in areas over which they have no power what-so-ever.  At a subconscious level they disinhibit and stop trying to control themselves.  The way to fight these tendencies is to use humor and be self-reflectively aware of the problem.  It also turns out that power doesn’t actually corrupt, but, much like sports, it reveals.  Selfish people become more selfish, but altruists become more generous.  To understand someone see how he treats others who have less power.  (The No Asshole Rule: Part 2 by Robert Sutton, It Isn’t Just a Myth, Power Turns People Into AssholesPower is not only an aphrodisiac, it does weird things to some of us by Vicki Haddock, and Power, approach, and inhibition

Avoid pompous jerks.  Not only can they make you feel bad about yourself, you might start acting like them.  (The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t by Robert I. Sutton) 

If you don’t know, guess positive. (“The Secret of Happiness Lies in Taking a Genuine Interest in All the Details of Daily Life.” - The Happiness Project) 

Do you have enough to be happy?  What do you need more money, power, or status for? (Kurt Vonnegut and The No Asshole Rule

Anyone can learn to be creative.  You just have to work at it and be confident. (David Kelley Nails It Again: “The teaches creative confidence.” and A guide to practice design thinking: “The Bootcamp Bootleg“)  

Whenever people agree with you it’s best to find others who disagree with you to act as a check on possible overconfidence and groupthink.  Find people who make you squirm.  If you are an expert then whenever you need a fresh perspective seek out novices.  Also, seek out experts in other fields.  If you are a novice, then for a fresh perspective seek out experts.  Make up teams that are composed of both. Sutton’s Law: “If you think that you have a new idea, you are wrong. Someone else probably already had it. This idea isn’t original either; I stole it from someone else” There are few if any truly new ideas.  There are no magical leadership or organizational secrets that will guarantee success.  Every organization struggles to succeed, and every organization makes many mistakes.  In the social sciences there is no such thing as one single definitive study.  The soundest knowledge comes from a series of studies, subject to peer review, resulting in consistent findings. (Good to Great: More Evidence That “Most Claims of Magic are Testimony to Hubris, The Halo Effect: … and the Eight Other Business Delusions That Deceive Managers by Phil Rosenzweig, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip Heath, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini, Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace by Gordon MacKenzie, and The Art of Innovation: Success Through Innovation the IDEO Way by Thomas Kelley

Don’t ask, “Am I a success or a failure?”  Instead what people should be asking is, “What is preventing me from advancing at this moment?” Focus on the present, where improvement happens. (Karl Weick On Why “Am I a Success or a Failure?” Is The Wrong Question, Do You Believe That You Can Increase Your IQ? Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck, The Talent Myth by Malcolm Gladwell

It would be better if people got more sleep and napped more. (Naps Are Wonderful, Especially If You Can Lie Down, How to Nap – BPS) 

Work to achieve simplicity and competence, but accept the fact that you will be confused on the journey.  When you view something from the outside for the first time it will often appear very easy.  Then when you first do it, it will appear incredibly complex.  After you work a long time at it, it will again appear simple.  (The Boss’s Journey: The Path to Simplicity and Competence, Profound Simplicity

Innovation always involves failure.  One test of an organization is: What happens when people make mistakes?  The most productive way to react is to forgive the mistake, but remember the lesson so that you don’t repeat it.  (The Best Diagnostic Question and Amazon)

You need courage to act on your best opinion right now, and the humility to change course when you find better evidence.  Take your best shot, and fix your mistakes later. (Andy Grove Tells The Truth About What Great Leaders Do

Management magic and breakthrough ideas are overrated.  Being good at the obvious is often far more important. Great organizations are great at the mundane. For example, about 100,000 Americans die each year from diseases they get in hospitals.  If hospital personnel would wash their hands more frequently this would go a long way towards fixing the problem. (Masters of the Obvious

“Creativity means doing new things with old ideas.”  (How Breakthroughs Happen: The Surprising Truth About How Companies Innovate by Andrew HargadonYou need to bring in ideas from the outside.  Find people who are different from you, and who know about things you know nothing about.  Look for such people at the intersections of life, where diverse ideas collide.  Hopefully they will have ideas that are weird and useless.  Listen to them and then tell them about your ideas.  Mix them all together. (Leading Innovation: 21 Things that Great Bosses Believe and Do, Weird Ideas That Work: How to Build a Creative Company by Robert I. Sutton) 

Learn to shut up, watch, and listen.

When you don’t know, say “I don’t know.” 

Reward and punish the right things.  Don’t punish smart failures, reward them.  Punish stupid failures and inactionLearn from others’ failures, it’s cheaper.  

People should worry, so that they catch mistakes before they happen.  But still find a way to be productive, optimistic and happy while worrying

Once a tough decision is made, don’t whine about it, implement it. (Leading Innovation: 21 Things that Great Bosses Believe and Do

Don’t reward such that you create a culture where people strive to be perfect copies of those who came before. (The Best You Can Be Is a Perfect Imitation of Those Who Came Before You)

A good team will have competent people, who have complementary skills, who all contribute and do what is necessary, who aren’t afraid to voice an opposing opinion, who see each other as equals, who have the same basic set of goals, who support one another, and who all respect each other.  One possible scenario for a good problem solving session might be to generate 25 suggestions, narrow it down to 3 or 4 possible solutions, argue over them, and choose one.  (Fast Fights on a Team

To be successful you have to kill a lot of good ideas.  For a good idea to succeed it needs time, resources, and attention.  You have to prioritize, pick the best of them, and kill the rest. (Wisdom From Steve Jobs: The Importance of Killing Good Ideas

To successfully innovate you, or someone else, have to be able to actually implement your creative ideas.  According to Hayagreeva Rao, Will+Ideas+Tools= Innovation. (Market Rebels: How Activists Make or Break Radical Innovations by Hayagreeva Rao)  At some point you have to be able to sell your ideas to run a business. 

Innovation often is frightening, frustrating, messy, inefficient, confusing, and has a very high failure rate. (Why Creativity and Innovation Suck

Finally, here are many more articles and links Bob Sutton recommends: (Bob Sutton’s Work Matters)


Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

An abbreviated list of what makes people happy includes:  You have to find out what is true for you, so most happiness advice is only true most of the time.  Happiness is a way to travel, with a life filled with frequent, simple, small, positive experiences.  Happy people have reasonable status, are both technically and socially competent, and are successful.  They have low stress and feelings of guilt, get enough sleep, have good perceived health, access to nature, and a sense of control over their lives.  Community, spirituality, and good individual relationships are important for happiness.  Living under a good government is important.  It helps immensely if you love your work.  Happy people are optimistic and grateful.  Symbiotes can help.  For the rest of the details read below.

The advice in this post should be used in the same way clinics often use psychological assessment tests.  (For examples, see Psychological testing – Wikipedia, Psychological Test List, and Neuropsych Tests)  A client comes in, and for the first few days he is given a whole battery of tests covering just about everything imaginable.  Then a counselor sits down with him, goes over the results, they narrow down where the problem areas are, and then they proceed from there.  Some of the advice in this post will be in tension with other advice in it.  For example, “You should delay gratification for greater rewards in the long run.” versus “Try to live in the moment, not in the past or future.”  The way to think about this is that there are many ways in which people can be less than fully functional.  So, you’ll need to tailor any advice to your life by reasonably applying it to your specific situation.  If you tend to worry excessively, you will need to try to worry less, and learn to take reasonable risks for the greater gains.  But if you’re a risk freak, then you might need to work at being more cautious.  The first step then is to take stock and ask yourself the question, “What in my life is causing me problems?” and tailor your approach accordingly.  Also, don’t fall into the trap of becoming a slave to any “happiness advice rules.”  Be flexible, generally act in moderation, and do what works for you.

What a person brings to life (their personality, likes and dislikes, abilities, temperament, skills, and habits) determines their happiness to a fair degree, and therefore to some degree our happiness is out of our control. For example, our inborn degree of extroversion is an important variable in determining our happiness.  Relative to the current range of environmental variation (1), about 50% of people’s happiness depends on their genes.  But, this leaves us with the other 50% to work with, which allows a lot of room for improvement.  Approximately 10% of the total is a result of various identifiable life circumstances, such as health, SES, marital status, and income.  And 40% is some combination of unknown factors, along with the actions that individuals intentionally take to make themselves happier, or not. 

If you want to intentionally work at improving your happiness one thing you need to develop is a looking-down-on-yourself-as-a-subject metaperspective on your life.  So a good habit is to keep a happiness diary.  You need to figure out what’s true for you.  Because we often know our own nature better than others do, and often have our own interests more at heart, a good general rule is that people who set their own agendas in life are often happier than those who don’t or can’t.  This is one of the reasons why freedom and happiness correlate.  Another reason is that freedom implies status and respect in a community, because the fact that you can’t make choices to the same degree as your peers is often a sign of inferior status.  So you need to know yourself, and be able to act on that knowledge, to fashion a life that’s grounded in what’s best for you. (2)  But, having said this, unlimited freedom isn’t the ideal state either.  Routines are comfortable and familiar, and help us by limiting our choices.  Research shows that although people believe they want endless variety and choice, they’re actually happier with somewhat more limited options, otherwise they can become overwhelmed.  As with many things, freedom also needs to be in moderation.

However, there’s one problem with the plan of finding out what’s true for us.  As bad as other people are at running our lives, we aren’t necessarily very good either.  (It’s just that other people are generally even worse.)  It turns out that people are quite bad at predicting what will make them happy. (Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert) They consistently remember bad things in the past as worse than they were at the time, and they make the same mistakes over and over in predicting how various hypothetical circumstances will affect their happiness.  For example, when people are asked how happy would they be if they were paraplegic many people predict they would be miserable.  It turns out that, while parapaglics might be not quite as happy as before, they often aren’t miserable.  The reason they aren’t miserable is that we don’t react to the world as it is, but to how we perceive it, and we have some control over this.  People are very good at adapting to bad things by changing how they see the world, and our inability to account for this when given some hypothetical explains why our imaginations fail us.  One way to fight this tendency is to ask people who are actually in the hypothesized situation how happy they are.  This turns out to be a better predictor than a person’s introspection usually is.  So, even though people vary in what will make them happy, the average of other’s experience is still better than we can do in predicting how happy we will be in some situation we’ve never experienced.  This is why it’s important to try all sorts of things for ourselves, because through this process we find out who we are, and what works for us.  If you think about it, it shouldn’t be the least bit surprising that people are bad at knowing what will make them happy.  If people were actually good at this, then there wouldn’t be much point in doing happiness research.

As many people have said, “Happiness is a way to travel, not a place to get to.”  Along these lines one key to happiness is setting up your life so that you generally have something good to look forward to. Living in this way supports optimism, and also dovetails with the finding that happiness tends to grow out of small, frequent, regular, and dependable positive experiences,  which are habits that are part of a routine. As such, a person’s happiness can often be best understood by looking at how their ongoing activities operate in their life.  A change in a person’s life that involves pursuing a goal or engaging in a new activity (joining a club, beginning a new hobby, learning a new skill, changing careers, making new friends) will usually change a person’s happiness for a long time, because they are now in a constantly changing environment that provides a series of novel happiness enhancing experiences.  By contrast, even an important change in a person’s material circumstances (getting a new house or new car) will usually result in only a temporary rise in happiness.  This is because people become acclimated to the static facts of their new lifestyle as they roughly have the same experience over and over.  (Why Are Some People Happier Than Others? by Sonja Lyubomirsky)  This contrast highlights the fact that happiness generally doesn’t grow out of possessing things, but out of doing things. (3)  Dr. Michael Fordyce summarizes the idea that happiness often grows out of a series of small positive doing-things experiences by employing what he calls the “Time Clock Theory of Happiness,” and argues that a person’s happiness is largely determined by the content of their thoughts over time. (Happiness Research Website)  What this suggests is that you should try to find simple pleasures you enjoy and distribute them throughout your day. (4)  (Savor the Little things – Zen Habits)  If a person regularly engages in activities such as having sex with someone they love, spending time with friends, relaxing, learning new and interesting things, challenging herself with new projects, and meditating (Meditation – Lost Wanderer) she will probably be happier.  And if she can limit distasteful activities, such as long commutes and boring or stressful work, it’s so much the better.

In addition to simple pleasures, there are a number of general factors that for many people tend to color their overall life satisfaction: regularly getting a good night’s sleep, having a low level of stress (since stress tends to maintain depression) (How NOT to Multitask – Work Simpler and Saner – Zen Habits), living in quiet surroundings (Stress and Noise - Resources for Science Learning – The Franklin Institute), having high self-perceived health (5), engaging with nature, and having respectable statusDepression tends to be associated with social rejection and emotional isolation (6), living in fear, unrelievable pain, and having a low sense of control over your life.  Dr. Steven Ilardi, in his book, “The Depression Cure,” argues that our transition from the hunter-gatherer lifestyle to modern civilization created a mismatch between our biology and the environment that reduced our happiness.  Some of his recommendations are that we should consume at least 1 gram/day of omega-3 fatty acid (because it’s anti-inflammatory)  (For example, see Natural Factors Omega-3 Pharmaceutical Grade Fish Oil – Lost Wanderer), get enough sleep (most people need 8 hours/day) (7) (Sleep Related Topics – Lost Wanderer and Sleeping Like a Hunter-Gatherer – Lost Wanderer), eat a healthy diet (The Paleolithic diet – Lost Wanderer), exercise (Move Natural Exercise – Lost Wanderer, Pole Dancing & Belly Dancing are Good Workouts – Lost Wanderer, Lifting Depression by Kelly Lambert – Lost Wanderer,, and Conditioning Research), and get 30+ minutes of sunshine/day. (8)  Another very important factor I can add to his list is our natural biological symbiotes, such as various helminths and protozoa, which we need in order to function normally, and lost during our transition to modernity.  For example, the common soil bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae seems to have strong antidepressant effects, which might help explain why so many people enjoy gardening. (Is Dirt the New Prozac - Discover Magazine, See also, We Need Our Symbiotes – Lost Wanderer)  Johns Hopkins researchers have written that a majority of subjects in a 2006 experiment reported an increase in life satisfaction over a year after taking psilocybin a single time.  Many of the volunteers described the experience as an especially spiritually significant one.  (Magic Mushrooms – Lost Wanderer)  Another natural antidepressant of note might very well be semen. (Semen acts as an Anti-depressant – Lost Wanderer)  And some of the natural environmental stressors people used to be exposed to might also be very helpful.  (Adapted cold shower as a potential treatment for depression – Lost Wanderer)

The evidence for the relationship between money and happiness is mixed, and sorting out all the confounding variables will take researchers some time.  National income has greatly risen in the last 50 years, but national happiness levels haven’t changed.  (I suspect that this is because if everyone is on average richer, then no one’s relative status has changed, and status is often the reason why having money is important for happiness.)  The happiest states are the poorest ones, and the least happy are the richest.  Yet, rich people are happier than poor people, (My guess is that this is mostly because rich people have higher status and they have a greater sense of accomplishment.) and rich countries are happier than poor ones. (Rich countries generally have more honest governments.  See below, “trust and confidence in their government.”)  What researchers can say right now about money is that having lots of it usually won’t make you happy, because it has rapidly diminishing returns past some point.  It seems that money helps if it can be used to access those things that increase happiness, and to reduce those things that lead to unhappiness.  So, if someone can use a raise to get enough sleep, eat a healthier diet, have a greater sense of personal freedom, etc., it might very well help.  And if that raise can be used to reduce or remove pain, stress, insecurity, anxiety, being trapped in a job you hate, not being able to get good health care, having low status/being looked down upon, being forced to interact with people you don’t like or trust, not having access to nature, etc., it would be likely to increase happiness.  Today in America, money’s effect tends to top out at about $50,000/year, and after that its returns drop.  As a dramatic demonstration of this, in a study of 22 people who won major lotteries, researchers found that after some time these people were no happier than matched controls who hadn’t won. (Lottery Winners and Accident Victims: Is Happiness Relative?)  (It also seems to be the case that earned money correlates with happiness far more than won money. (Can Money But Happiness? By Arthur C. Brooks) (9)  Money spent on acquiring things often doesn’t increase happiness, because trying to buy happiness puts you on what has been labeled the “hedonic treadmill.” The pattern is that a new possession will give you a temporary boost, but then you will fall back to your previous level, and you then need to buy something else to get another boost.  Since the tendency is to have to up the ante each time, it’s a race you can’t win.  From reading this post, you might reasonably conclude that it does make a lot of sense for someone to say, “I’ll be happier when I have an income of at least $50,000/year, a job I love, good friends, access to nature, etc.  But all too often what people are saying is something like, “I’ll be happy when I get that big raise or promotion.”  To fight this money trap one piece of advice is, instead of comparing yourself to others who have more than you, use downward comparisons. Read stories about people going through catastrophes. (Recommended happiness reading – Memoirs of illness and catastropheThe Happiness Project)  Compare yourself with those who have less than you, who have gone through tragedy, and who are struggling.  Make a list of all the positive things in your life: friends, family, a job you love, good health, enough food, etc.  You might come to see that you are blessed.  And if your circumstances are very bad, stories where someone overcame incredible hardships inspire you to believe you can also.  It’s OK to have material goals, but you shouldn’t fall into the trap of thinking you’ll be happy when you reach some high material accomplishment.

The same principle also applies to very high status.  Try to focus on that you have accomplished, not on what you haven’t.  It is certainly true that having high status helps happiness, but it too has diminishing returns.  And if your self-esteem comes out of a title, then losing your job is a catastrophe.  This explains why the loss of a job is very bad for happiness, since people lose self-respect and expect to be seen as a failure by family and friends. You need to remember that your job isn’t you, and avoid the status trap. So don’t envy others’ great wealth or status, if you do you’re probably living an unbalanced life and targeting the wrong goals. (10) A good strategy to achieve maximal happiness is to invest your energy in a balanced way in most, if not all, of the various factors that contribute to happiness.  Once a category is above a certain level, you’re probably misallocating resources if you are trying to drive it to the sky.  Keep your priorities balanced, and practice moderation in most things. Indulge yourself occasionally, but don’t make indulgence into part of your lifestyle. Obviously, addictions and compulsions can ruin lives.

The advice in this post is geared for those people who have enough to offer such that they can fit into some sort of reasonable community.  In short, you aren’t that toxic person everyone else is rejecting.  Living in a community requires a degree of honesty, and, like most things in life, honesty involves tradeoffs.  There are clear benefits to deception; otherwise our capability for it would never have evolved.  There are many circumstances such as war or negotiation, where unvarnished honesty would drive you from the field of battle.  Likewise, individuals with little to offer often end up in the unenviable situation of having problems they can’t ignore, and they can’t solve in any honest way.  While the compromises such people fashion might entail large costs, they also might be the best they can do given their limited resources and capabilities.  In addition to habitual dishonesty, a whole panoply of dysfunctional behavior patterns (drinking, engaging with prostitutes, habitual pornography, gambling, etc.) sometimes can be viewed as coping mechanisms used by those who have no better options.  If you aren’t in such an unfortunate situation, fitting into a community as a respected member can be the path to a happier life.  We need a place called home.  A community of people is a group who care about each other (which lowers the stress response), participate together in meaningful activities, who believe in the system, and are mutually invested in a common set of rules.  The nature of community makes it an ongoing enterprise.  Cooperation is fostered by shared fate, and the expectation that people will interact into the future.  In this way reciprocity and equality are encouraged, and cheaters are punished and driven out.  People often have common interests, a common background, propinquity, and support each others’ dreams & goals.  So, you should use the power of others to help achieve your goals, and listen to good advice from trustworthy friends.  (The Evolution of Despair by Robert Wright – Lost Wanderer, The Importance of Belonging and Community – Lost Wanderer, and The Uplift Program for Happiness - Lost Wanderer)  Having said all this, if you are so dysfunctional that you are toxic, you should look to other sources for happiness advice. (The Origins of Violence: Is Psychopathy an Adaptation? by Ian Pitchford)

Good relationships are a very important determinant of happiness for almost everyone.  (Rejection Creates Resentment – Lost Wanderer)  One of the many reasons for this is people need motivated conversation.  We must feel needed. Research indicates that it’s more important to worry about having around five good friends rather than a lot of them.  Extraverted people are happier, and if your social circle is lacking you should try to meet some new people.  (Succeed Socially.comGood family relations and a significant-other long-term loving relationship help a lot.  Married people are happier than the unmarried, and widowhood is bad for happiness.  (Although it isn’t clear what impact having children has on happiness.) (A Simple Statistical Method for Measuring how Life Events Affect Happiness, The Math of Love – Lost Wanderer, and For those who are Contemplating Marriage – Lost Wanderer) (11)

But, this raises an obvious question, “Just what is a good relationship?” In order to have good relationships we have to do our part.  To have good friends we have to be one.  One starting point is to remember that people don’t remember what you said so much as they remember how you made them feel.  The advice people give on the topic of friendship is commonsensical:

  • Be polite, be fair and follow the rules. (12)
  • Don’t maliciously lie (lying to protect someone is more of a judgment call).
  • Keep your wordpay your debts, take what’s yours, and be patient and flexible.
  • Don’t react in anger.  (If you’re angry count to 10, and wait 24 hours before sending an angry email)
  • Try to not hold grudges, and follow the golden rule. (13)
  • Practice compassion by putting yourself in their shoes. (14)
  • A good relationship will have: trust, respect, appreciation, and enthusiasm.  It will be transparent and have open communication with people able to, for the most part, freely express their needs and feelings while empathizing with one another.  (15)  You will be involved, accessible, engaged, reliable, and committed.  (A New Scale to Assess the Therapeutic Relationship in a Community Mental Health Care: STAR)
  • Of course, it’s a two way street, and you should try to hang around with people who also do and are these thingsHappiness is a team sport.  In the end we should try to interact with people we like and who like us back, and be with the people we can count on when the chips are on the line. (16)  (See also, Fighting Fair in Relationships - Lost Wanderer)
  • Take responsibility for what you do.
  • Happy people are emotionally stable and socially competent.
  • You should try to live your values, and know your moral bottom line.
  • Keep it real. Can you take what you say seriously? (17) (18)   

Stephen Pinker, in “How the Mind Works“, discusses two mechanisms that can contribute to creating strong friendships.  First, if people share a rare common interest they will often naturally generate positive externalities for each other.  For example, if two people both like an esoteric genre of music they can share advice about it, and they become more valuable to each other.  If two people are more valuable to each other this results in a positive feedback cycle, because each can more likely count on the other for aid.  Because each is not only a source of advice, but also aid, they see each other as still more valuable.  This process iterates in an upward spiral.  Second, in similar fashion, if John has a special area of expertise that Susan values, and can’t easily substitute for, then he becomes valuable to her.  He will know that he is valuable to her, which means that he knows he can more likely count on her for aid and support.  So as a result she now becomes more valuable to him.  She now knows that he thinks she is valuable to him, so she can now count on him for more support.  Again, the same upward spiral occurs.  These two mechanisms highlight the importance competency has.  Happy people are more competent people.  The more competent you are in general the more you have to offer.  Having more to offer, you will attract others who will also have more to offer.  So you should find the things you’re are good at and love to do, and develop these areas.  One strategy is to ask yourself, “What’s in short supply?”  Then try to make yourself an indispensible expert, and find those who will value most what you have to offer.  (The Evolution of Happiness by David M. Buss)  The idea is not that you are helping people in a bean counting tit-for-tat way, but if you can help generally, by being able to give to people what they can’t get from others, you can build friendships. (19)  Happy people want the best for those around them, they like other people, and help people when they can for their own sakes.  Help people problem solve, share their goals, help them find a silver lining, and be on their side/team. (20) (21)  All of this will create confidence in everyone involved.  Besides sounding nice, it turns out that it’s also in our own self-interest to increase the happiness of those around us, because people catch emotions from others.  Happiness spreads in society in waves, much like a viral infection, and your happiness somewhat depends on the happiness of people who are 3 degrees of separation from you.  (Happiness is Contagious – Lost Wanderer)   So try to do one thing every day to make someone else happy.  In marriage if one partner is happy the other also on average will be happier.

We are a social species, as evidenced by the large number of social emotions we have for regulating our interactions with others: guilt, shame, self-righteousness, loneliness, jealously, love, modesty, resentment, contempt, gratitude, approval, pity, etc.  Humans evolved in small hunter gatherer groups of 50 to 200 individuals, and most of these were kin.  So continuous face time is the default setting, and it was the norm for 99% of human evolution.  In the hunter-gatherer days being in a tribe in which you trusted the collective decision making of the group would have been important for survival.  Because it would have entailed such a high a fitness cost, incompetent leadership became something that made people unhappy.  How would you have felt if you thought your tribal leaders were criminals, incompetent, or malicious; instead of honest, honorable, and competent? (22)  It only makes sense that this would be one of the determinates of happiness today, only now it’s good government that plays the role of the tribal council.  The happiest countries are small, stable, homogenous, democratic, protect human rights and liberty, they are efficiently run, and have honest courts.  People have trust and confidence in their government. I don’t think I’m speculating too wildly when I suggest that if a country is stable this means you don’t have to deal with the anxiety that arises out of political turmoil.  A homogenous country generates less suspicion that various other factional interests are trying to take advantage of you (9), and you will be more likely to have a sense of belonging. (Trust in Communities and Ethnic Diversity – Lost Wanderer and Belonging versus Support – Lost Wanderer) (23)  If a country is democratic you have status as an equal citizen, and democracies imply the various rights and freedoms that allow you to tailor your life to achieve greater happiness.  An efficiently run country implies a good standard of living, and honest courts means that you can trust you won’t be legally cheated.  Northern European countries are the happiest: Denmark, the Netherlands, and the Scandinavian countries.  Other countries with high levels of happiness are Switzerland, Canada, and Costa Rica. (24)

Spirituality is another aspect of human experience that’s important for happiness.  Spirituality exists when a person has an emotional connection to something larger than themselves.  This can be many things: their community or country, a cause, science, God, etc.  People have suggested that for an activity to be meaningful in the spiritual sense we must understand what it is and how to do it, and how it fits into the larger picture creating a benefit for that larger thing that is beyond ourselves.  Whatever the specific object of a person’s spirituality, it is characterized by four major affective components: a sense of gratitude (appreciation of benefits received), awe (an overwhelming feeling of deep respect, wonder, and fear), transcendence (a state of being or existence above and beyond the limits of material experience; lying beyond the ordinary range of perception, preeminent or supreme), and love.  Spirituality gives people a sense that they are needed, a belief/feeling that they have a higher purpose.  They believe they are living by a higher narrative.  Some defenders of the spirituality argue that if you think that it’s irrational to be spiritual, you should dare to be irrational, because you already are in so many ways.  Not infrequently spirituality involves religious beliefs about judgment and an afterlife, and this provides another reason why it creates happiness, because it helps happiness to believe in ultimate justice. (Although a religion full of hate tends to drive out happiness.)  Durkheim argued that God ultimately refers in a metaphorical way to the clan or tribe.  (The Death of Animism, Community, and God – Lost Wanderer, Alienation and Animism – Lost Wanderer, and “Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought” by Pascal Boyer – Lost Wanderer)  If this is so, then the purest form of spirituality would exist in relationship to a community, and the other forms (to science, a cause, etc.) would be in some sense substitutes. (25) (26)

The old clich’e, “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” leads directly to the important idea that if you can do what you love to do, and you are good at, you will live a much happier life.  (How to Find Your Passion – Stepcase Lifehack, Find and Follow Your Bliss, The Short but Powerful Guide to Finding Your Passion - Zen Habits)  When deciding which job to take, along with salary and benefits, the questions should be: how engaging and meaningful will this work be for you?   The opposite of work you love is toxic work, which is work that mentally exhausts you. (27)  Whenever I have heard a world champion, or anyone who is at the top of their field, interviewed, and the interviewer asks, “What is the secret of your success?” almost inevitably the first thing the person says is, “I love what I do.” They are passionate about it, and when going to bed generally look forward to, or even can’t wait for, the next day.  They are mentally energized and thrilled by it.  For them work can even be joyful and gleeful.  I think this partly explains what Joseph Campbell meant when he said, “I don’t believe people are looking for the meaning of life as much as they are looking for the experience of being alive.”  Work is for them is what play is to a child.  Most people can think back to some period of their lives, frequently when they were children, when they woke up every day passionate about living.  If you love your work much of your life will be like this.  Csikszentmihalyi says that such work creates the experience of “Flow.” (28)  People are not focused on themselves, but absorbed and fascinated.  One acquaintance of mine once said that his father was a big strong guy, loved helping people, loved fire, and loved working in groups.  So he became – what else? - a fireman.  Other examples I’ve run across include: The Olympic gold medal winning wrestler Cael Sanderson, who had to work to not smile during matches, because he enjoyed them so much. Warren Buffett describes himself as “tap dancing to work every day.” And the mathematician David Hilbert, who while delivering a funeral eulogy lost track of the situation and started enthusiastically delivering a math lecture! (29) Even those of us can’t do something we love for a living should make a list of those things we love to do, and try to make time for them every day. (30) (31) (See also Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck- Lost Wanderer)

Our sense of ourselves, or how our thoughts and words relate to external reality, has real consequences.  So there are a number of habits you can cultivate that involve deliberately managing your thoughts and emotions to increase happiness:  Our attitudes somewhat determine who we are, which leads directly to the old idea of having a positive attitude.  A positive frame of reference flows out of what you pay attention to, how you interpret it, and how you remember it.  You might begin by keeping a journal each day, and fill it with entries that reflect on what went well in the last 24 hours.  When someone is negative you should try to think of two positives for each negative.  In general look for the silver lining, for beauty – which is always there in the world, and try to find some meaning in even the worst of things.  Spin it half full rather than half empty, and ask, “What did I learn, and what is better because of it?”  Make lemonade out of lemons by asking, “How can I take advantage of this development?”   Think about how it could have been worse, and could always be worse.  If you don’t have any information at all (even probabilistic) guess positive until proven otherwise.  Expect happiness.

However, while hope and optimism are essential for happiness, you should never confuse the general belief that you will overcome in the end with the expectation of success of any specific plans you have made.  You need to be confident, but not have unrealistic expectations.  In other words, believe in yourself, but not too much.  You should expect disappointment within an overall joyful life.  You need to also be realistic enough so your rose colored glasses don’t become blinders such that you only see the positive, and ignore some impending catastrophe.  So when making specific plans you might try imagining the worst case outcome, then imagine the best, and then imagine something in between.  The third one will generally be much more likely.

Other habits of mind you need to be aware of include: If you worry a lot, give yourself a set time and place each day to worry, and then otherwise don’t.  Self-monitor and keep a score in a worry journal where you write them all down.  Don’t indulge pointless negative thoughts, but note them in your worry journal and then change the topic. You will probably find that most of the things you worry about either never come true, or they come true in a way no one could have anticipated or prevented.  Stress and tension are universal negatives, so the more you can eliminate them the better. (32)  Sometimes it is best to simply face our fears.  For example, you might think about, share, talk about, and deal with your fears of death, instead of letting them hang over you.  In general it turns out that the best way of dealing with negative thoughts isn’t to try to suppress them, or to vent them, but instead to change the subject and think about positive and productive things, such as, for example, what you are grateful for.  Being generally grateful is very important for happiness.  One technique people have suggested is to construct a “gratitude bomb” by making a detailed list of all the things other people have done for you over the course of your life.  It should run into thousands of items, and could be overwhelming.  Cultivate gratitude, make it into a habit, and incorporate it into your routine.  In this way you are recreating the experience of being in a tribe.  Along with gratitude, forgiveness has been called, “an essential ingredient for mental health,” (33) because anger and hate drive out love.  Try to think about your own faults before you beat up on others for theirs.

Still more advice includes:

  • You might need to try to be more decisive. When faced with an uncertain choice, make it and move on.  In studies where people were allowed to reconsider and change their choices they were on average less happy with them. 
  • Don’t dwell on what you can’t control, but focus on the positive things you can do to make things better. (34)  Don’t ignore what bothers you if you can change it.  Your aim should be to fix the problem, or at least make it better.  If you can’t do either, your last option is to try to focus on something else you can do something about.  You can’t control the past, so give yourself a break, don’t beat yourself up for mistakes, flush the guilt, don’t brood, learn from your errors, and move on and improve.
  • You don’t have to be perfect.  You should strive to appreciate your strengths, root for yourself, give yourself credit for what you have to offer, accept your shortcomings and weaknesses, and thereby cultivate self-acceptance. (35)  Try daily self-affirmations.  Make a list of your positive characteristics.  Put them on index cards, hide them around your house, and every time you see one focus on it for a while.  Treat yourself the way you would treat a good friend, and in this way work on your self-esteem.
  • Don’t set yourself up to fail by setting goals that are incompatible. Don’t persist in clearly unwinnable conflicts, but recognize the situation and tactically retreat. (You’ve Gotta Know When to Fold ‘Em: Goal Disengagement and Systemic Inflammation in AdolescenceSet reasonable goals, both short term and long term, you can have success with in all areas of your life.  (See also Mystery Moods – Lost Wanderer)  The idea is to create a record of success, so that you can develop self-confidence in your abilities.  Happy people feel successful, and are satisfied with their lives.
  • Practice being honest with yourself.  Don’t self-handicap in order to have an excuse ready if you don’t succeed.
  • You might also have to learn to not care what certain people think of you (8 Best Ways to Deal with Detractors – Zen Habits); and, as harsh as it sounds, to flush toxic people at some point. (36)
  • Work at failing fast and cheap. That is, figure out if you can succeed at whatever you’re doing early on in the process, and if you can’t drop it.
  • Try to see the humor and play in life. (37)  Look for books, films, and TV shows on DVD that you find funny.
  • Remember that you always have choices, so you have some control, and aren’t helpless.
  • You need to be open to new ideas, and try to learn something new every day.  Challenge and novelty are important elements of happiness.
  • Being able to negotiate well is a general applicable and valuable skill. (38)
  • You might need to learn to be appropriately assertive, to stand your ground, and speak up for yourself. (39)
  • You might consider learning to play poker well.  Bill Gates, among many others, credits poker with teaching him a lot about how to run a business. (pp. 396-7, “Cowboys Full: The Story of Poker” by James McManus)
  • Develop your problem solving skills. (40)
  • More education can sometimes help, and a conscientious attitude (the tendency to be organized, and to think carefully and thoroughly before acting) is often a plus.
  • You have to learn to take reasonable risks, so you can’t be too afraid of failure.  If you’re not occasionally failing you’re not taking enough chances.  It turns out that moderate, rational risk takers, who are from the 50th percentile to the 84th, are the happiest. (The Art of Living Dangerously by William Gurstelle)  “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear.” (Ambrose Redmoon).  So don’t feed the fear, feed the dream.  Think of solutions, instead of dwelling on worst case scenarios.
  • Things are rarely as good or as bad as they seem, so try to take a 3rd party perspective, and be somewhat detached and analytical when things go wrong.  This doesn’t mean you’re uninvolved, but instead it’s more likely your problem solving will be more productive. (Calm as a Monk: How Equanimity Can Save Your Sanity – Zen Habits)
  • When you have to do unpleasant things do the worst things first, get them out of the way instead of having them hang over you head.
  • People who plan for the future and delay gratification often come out ahead in the long run.  So, don’t take shortcuts that will hurt you in the long run.
  • But, you also don’t want to end up only living in the future (or the past) but try to live in the present and enjoy it.  The past is to learn from, the present is to enjoy, and the future is to look forward to.  The goal is to keep them balanced and in their proper places.
  • Try laughter yoga.
  • If you have gone through emotional trauma try expressive writing for getting over it. Write down in detail what happened and your feelings about it.  Get it out of your head, and know your own mind.  See your flawed thoughts, be honest with yourself.  To remember it practice telling someone else.
  • The book, “Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness” argues that we should arrange our lives so that it’s easy to do the right things.  The authors argue that we have self-control problems because of limited time and the various mental shortcut heuristics we use to get along in the world.  (List of Cognitive Biases - Wikipedia)  So we should tilt the playing field in our favor by, for example, intentionally setting our default options.
  • Control your desires.
  • The simplicity movement argues that many people have their priorities confused, and we should simplify our lives and flush the clutter.  (Simple Living, Simple Living – Wikipedia)
  • You might try recording your night-time dreams and sharing them with others.  Some people report this can lead to lucid dreaming. (The Lucidity Institute)
  • Some people find getting a pet helpful. (Happiness Is: Are Pet Owners Happier?)
  • Create new challenges by starting a new hobby, joining an organization, or learning a new skill.  A general rule is to buy experiences rather than goods, because a good experience will tend to get better each time you remember it.  (“59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot” and Richard Wiseman’s Online Webpage for his book “59 Seconds...) So go to a concert, movie, unusual place, or strange restaurant.
  • One piece of happiness advice is to smile more often. While it’s true that our emotional state helps determine whether we smile, it turns out that the lines of causation are a two way street, and if we smile we can actually make ourselves happier.  People are told to practice by putting a pencil between their teeth.  (“Just smile, you’ll feel better!” Will you? Really?)
  • On her blog, The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin lists many suggested readings, and says that she found the 13 virtues of Franklin (41), The Rambler, The Life of Samuel Johnson, and St. Therese, Story of a Soul especially helpful to her.
  • Fight procrastination. (42)
  • It was John Wooden who said, “Don’t let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.”
  • Commit when appropriate, don’t hold back, and ignore the irrational messages/feelings that interfere with success.
  • Finish the projects you start that are worth finishing.  If you have a winning hand, be stubborn and keep at it.
  • Work at being lucky. (How to Be Lucky – Lost Wanderer)
  • Compromise is sometimes wise, satisficers tend to be happier than maximizers, and the perfect can be the enemy of the good.
  • Don’t be a slave to rules, but be flexible in means to a given end. (Predictors of Success for People with Learning Disabilities – Lost Wanderer)
  • You have to learn to take constructive criticism.  Being in touch with reality is often painful, but (if you are willing to take the pain) you have to let the evidence guide you even if it hurts.  For many people, it is so painful to consider ideas/arguments they disagree with, or are outside their current world view, they shut them out. (43)
  • Wives are happier if they believe their husband is committed to the relationship
  • Vacations shouldn’t be thought of as a set of experiences, but as a celebration of family.
  • In general, it’s bad to be alone or watching a lot of TV.  It’s better to be listening to music or reading.
  • Look for ways to be romantic. (Cheap but great dates – Zen Habits)
  • Happy people aren’t too emotionally dependent on other’s approval.  Of course, it’s a balancing act between our need for others and our need to have a sense of control, independence, autonomy, and self-support.
  • Happy people don’t experience many of the negative emotions that erode happiness: they have low tensions, stress, fear, guilt, resentments, regrets and worries.  Happy people like themselves.  People with high self-confidence see themselves as having many good qualities, positive traits and abilities.  They see themselves as likeable, attractive, and worthwhile.
  • Many of the roots of the positive school of psychology stem from the humanistic school. (Positive psychology – Wikipedia and Humanistic psychology – Wikipedia)  Psychologists such Maslow focused on such topics as love, creativity, self-actualization or “fulfilling one’s highest potential”.  (FWIW, I’m not actually sure what they mean by “self-actualization.”)
  • Happiness is itself a resource that produces better relationships, longer life, health, wound healing, a lower chance of suicide, less depression, and less alcohol and drug abuse.
  • Stop looking at virtually all mass media, and get rid of the TV.  Advertising is selling the myth that buying things will make us happier.  We are continually being invited to be seduced by the unhealthy cheap thrills of modern life.  (Superstimuli – Whole Health Source)  Because of the mass media we all now compete with the best in the world, and compare our lives with the fantasy ones we see on TV.  Beautiful people are constantly paraded across the screen, providing unhealthy upward comparisons.  We could be the best at something in the ancient tribe, but now envy, which used to motivate people within realistic settings, leads to depression, self-perceived failure, and frustration.  If an athlete wins a silver medal at the Olympics announcers will describe the second best in the world (by a hair) as having “lost.”  On top of all this, the news presents us with a depressing negatively distorted version of reality (see foot note 22).

(1) Any statement like this is always limited to the range of variation of the relevant variables that was present in the environments where the studies were done.  If some very important variables were highly range restricted then a statistic wouldn’t generalize to another environment, where these variable weren’t as restricted.  For example, if everyone in a population was deficient in a symbiotic bacterium that strongly affects happiness by changing serotonin levels, then the researcher’s statistical model predicting happiness would be incomplete, and its heritability estimate for other environments would be different.

(2) Having said this, while people do vary in what makes them happy, there’s also a fair degree of agreement among people about this, otherwise giving advice would be impossible beyond saying, “Follow your own heart.”

(3) Since our hunter gatherer ancestors hardly owned anything, and they were generally happy, it makes a lot of sense that owning things wouldn’t create happiness for us either.  A caveat to this is that today a minimal level of possessions are often necessary as a signal of status, and status has always been correlated with happiness, both today and in the days of the hunter gatherers.

(4) The simple pleasures simply have to be enough to create happy lives.  Hunter-gatherers didn’t have trips to Europe, etc., yet they were happy with only their spears and skins.  We know they were happy both from anthropologists’ reports, and from the fact that evolutionary selection wouldn’t have fashioned an animal that was generally unhappy in its natural environment.  The fitness cost from the stress would have been too large.

(5) Unless the person is psychotic, I would think that at some point a person’s perception of their health would correlate with their actual health.  So, their actual health must also matter.

(6) The lowest status in a community is to be socially rejected and shunned by everyone in that community.  For an exploration of what happens when you are on the very bottom of a society, see (Delusions as Strategic Deception – Lost Wanderer).  Being cast-out might be considered an even lower case, but then you are no longer inside the community.

(7) To help our sleeping Ilardi recommends we turn off the lights 1 hour before bedtime, and use only a soft lamp or candlelight with no overhead or computers.

(8) This last piece of advice stems from the fact that sunlight is about 100 times as bright as artificial light, and through specialized receptors in the back of our eyes it adjusts our body clocks, which regulate our sleep and hormones.  We also get vitamin D this way, and most people in modern society are deficient in this.  (Vitamin D Deficiency in Modern Society – Lost Wanderer)

(9) This distinction might help explain why affirmative action is so controversial.  Besides all the other objections (Affirmative Action: A Worldwide Disaster by Thomas Sowell), instead of redistributing only money, it is also attempting to redistribute status.  As such, it rearranges the social hierarchy, and more clearly attempts to redistribute happiness.

(10) You want to manage your relationship with money, and not let it manage you.  You should try to eliminate debt, and build an emergency fund (a major way to reduce stress and make you feel more secure).  If you can find less expensive ways to do things, control impulse spending, and learn to live with less you will likely be happier in the long run.  A good book to start thinking about this is, “Your Money or Your Life: 9 Steps to Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence: Revised and Updated for the 21st Century.” by Vicki Robin et al.

(11) The general advice seems to be: Select a mate who is similar to you in mate-value & values, interests, politics, and personality.  A spouse should also be agreeable, emotionally stable, conscientious, and open to new experiences.

(12) The advice for good relationships overlaps with the advice for good sportsmanship, e.g., be polite and use appropriate language, don’t show off, respect your opponents, don’t argue with officials, don’t make up excuses when you lose – instead learn from it, cheer the other guy, don’t cheat, the team often comes first, etc.  Also, don’t engage in gamesmanship. (Gamesmanship – Wikipedia)

(13) Although, if you are ending a relationship, I could imagine circumstances where revenge could be an attractive option as a healing experience.

(14) One exercise is to start by imagining the suffering of a loved one.  Try to see the world as they see it, so that you can understand their pain, their emotions, and why they would react the way they do.  By repeating this exercise, you are developing a skill that can be applied to everyone, so that you can better understand what they are going through.

(15) In relationships you should practice active listening, which means that you: pay attention and respond, really try to understand the other person, make eye contact, don’t judge them, use touch, recognize their emotions and non-verbal cues. (For more, see The Art of Active Listening Tip Sheet and Active Listening Skills)

(16) David Buss even recommends that we set up critical tests to see who we can really depend on, and thereby develop a greater sense of deep social connections. (The Evolution of Happiness by David M. Buss)

(17) What makes for bad relationships is also common sense: People are angry, neurotically needy, condescending, destructively critical, reject and dislike one another.  They find each other annoying.  They are impatient, dishonest, and authoritarian.  They use pressure, engage in one-upmanship, and play manipulative games.  Other common practices include: not taking responsibility, changing the topic when they don’t want to talk about it, lying, playing dumb, withholding information, playing victim, feeling entitled, verbally minimizing the harm they’ve done, and basically not caring about others.  One test of whether or not a relationship is toxic for you is to ask yourself if you feel more energized or less after spending time with that person.  (Thinking Errors List and 15 Common Thinking Errors)

(18) The problem with this advice is that it is in some tension with the advice to be positive.  Imagine that you are, in fact, ugly (or even deformed), have a very low IQ, are a terrible athlete, naturally socially awkward, you can find nothing you enjoy in life, you are in bad health, in extreme poverty, everyone but mental cases and criminals reject you, and the only women interested in you are prostitutes.  Wouldn’t it be rational to be depressed?  Wouldn’t it be rational to see yourself in unflattering terms, because it’s true?  In short, the bottom 1% will be, of course by definition, in the bottom 1%.  Someone must be on the bottom of any competitive distribution, including a distribution of those things in life that make for happiness.  This highlights another of the tragedies of life; since good things tend to co-vary in populations (because of assortative mating, if nothing else), some people will end up on the bottom along many dimensions.  Their lives are the tragic and inevitable outcome of the logic of a competitive Malthusian type of world. (Malthusian catastrophe - Wikipedia and The Most IMPORTANT Video You’ll Ever See by Dr. Albert A. Bartlett) Low self-confidence correlates with unhappiness, and people with low self-confidence see themselves as unattractive and as failures, feel inadequate and guilty, expect to be socially rejected, are shy, self-conscious, self-critical, and hyper-sensitive.  They doubt love, are jealous and possessive, are unsuccessful and dissatisfied with their inter-personal relationships, have difficulty accepting praise, and are cautions and fearful.  Those who are unhappy are more neurotic, have many unfulfilled aspirations, are anxious, rigid, and display low spontaneity.  They are dependent on others for their self-esteem, are over concerned with prestige and social approval, have dissatisfying family lives, and are self-abasing.  They feel inadequate and insecure, are pessimistic and suspicious, are more likely to have experienced a loss of love, are socially withdrawn, and worry excessively. They are less competent, are less organized, and have lower mastery of the skills necessary to achieve their goals.  All this can easily end in self-hatred.  Those on the bottom will be more likely to be only able to socialize with others on the bottom, and the reason these other people are on the bottom is that they too don’t have much to offer.  In such circumstances, when you are hanging around with others who are depressed, and you can’t trust and don’t like, it would be rational to be depressed yourself.  This perspective is partially supported by the phenomenon of depressive realism.  This is where people with depression have been found to have a more accurate perception of reality.  Although the picture is complicated, people who are happier tend to have illusions of superiority, control, and excessive optimism.  (Depressive Realism – Wikipedia)

(19) This distinction is important and can be perhaps clarified by recalling the song, I Hate Myself for Loving You.  The idea this song captures is that someone might know that at a calculating rational level it would be far better to not love someone.  But at a more primal level they simply do.  If a person were extraordinarily lucky none of their desires would ever be in conflict.  In terms of relationships it’s ideal if you both like helping someone, and it is also in your long-term rational self-interest to do so.  The problem is that if you help people, but don’t really like them, there is the risk they will sense the calculating nature of your help, and discount accordingly.  Of course, you also get far less out of this sort of relationship.  But, this raises an obvious objection:  I can choose to act in a certain way out of calculated self-interest.  But, I can’t choose to like/love someone.  So what do I do if I don’t?  The two pieces of advice that come to mind are to fake it until you hopefully do feel it.  And to set up the background conditions that will make such feeling likely to eventually occur, and hope that they do.

(20) A person I know who went to an African country on business said that everyone there was desperately poor.  So people were constantly cheating everyone else, every time they could, to simply survive the day.  Of course, this created a self-feeding downward spiral that no one could ever get out of.  This next story might be apocryphal, but perhaps will serve as a useful allegory:  I read that if you put one lobster in an aquarium it will often be able to crawl out.  But if you put two lobsters in that same aquarium neither will ever get out, because as soon as one starts crawling up the other will instinctively come over and crawl up on it, pulling the first one back down.  So, if you want to get out of whatever trap you’re all in, find people you can trust, get behind them when they are trying to crawl out, and push.

(21)  When giving advice it is usually best to suggest possibilities, but not to give instructions.  You should prioritize, and focus precisely on the most important points.  Also, avoid giving mixed messages, e.g., “It was fine, but you could improve it.”  And avoid making vague statements, e.g., “I don’t like it.”

(22) I share the opinion of many of the most informed people I know that America as a corrupt society going to Hell.  The media, if not telling outright lies, through agenda setting, framing, the use of redefinition, and the careful taxonomic use of language categories supports an elite that rules by deception.  All this, along with a corrupt court system, both encourages and disguises the ongoing destruction of this society.  Those who speak out are pariahs, and considered either insane, fools, or far worse.  Those relatively honest people in power all too often must, at the least, compromise their principles to stay there.  Morality is inverted, with honorable people called scum by dishonorable people who are in positions of power.  Our presidents tend to be of one of two types, either they don’t know the truth, or they are semi-psychopathic liars.  Seemingly, anyone who knows the truth, and tells it, has a very hard time getting elected.  Think about two of our recent presidents: Clinton was credibly accused of rape, and Bush is a smirking fool who pushed for an unnecessary war that killed hundreds of thousands, and will cost an estimated 3 trillion dollars.  Yet, both of them are now comfortably retired.  The worst part of this is that the ultimate source of the problem is the American people.  The population of this country can’t handle the truth, and instead prefers to be told comforting lies.  So, as we spiral down towards Hell, this system can’t reform itself and, barring some miracle, this nation is doomed.  (As you might guess, my perspective hasn’t done much for my happiness.)

(23) In his book, Love and Survival, Dean Ornish also makes the point that in order to feel emotionally secure you need to have some sort of reasonably standardized rules.  You can have any number of different systems, but you need to have some standard, so that people know when they are right with the tribe.  (Love and Survival by Dean Ornish – Lost Wanderer)

(24) Having said this, while it is much better to live in a country with good government than bad, I doubt that even the best modern state does as well as the tribal council often did.  If things were going well people once had the whole tribe for social support, with typically each person a valued member of an enduring social group.  As such they lived their whole lives enmeshed in a web of deep intimate contacts within an extended kin group.  Today, we have lost this social support network, and are often limited to the nuclear family.  In the Paleolithic your kin determined what the law was, now the law is complex and created by strangers.  And at work people often suffer a sense of powerlessness as worker bees in large companies.  In short, even in the best societies, today we live relatively socially isolated disempowered lives. (The Evolution of Despair by Robert Wright – Lost Wanderer)

(25) Along the lines of thinking about spirituality as a phenomenon that grows out of community, evolutionary psychologist David Sloan Wilson argues that religion evolved to allow groups to better cooperate, and that those groups that had religion out competed those that didn’t. (Darwin’s Cathedral: Evolution, Religion, and the Nature of Society by David Sloan Wilson)

(26) Jonathan Ellerby lists the various paths by which people have traditionally tried to achieve spiritual enlightenment through following specific practices.  These include: ceremony and ritual, sacred movement, sound and music, prayer, meditation, study, yoga, death practice, sacred service, and ascetic practice.  (Return to The Sacred: Ancient Pathways to Spiritual Awakening by Jonathan H. Ellerby)

(27) When you are mentally tired one of the best ways to recharge yourself is not to rest or sleep, but engage in something you find fascinating.  For example, you might read a great heart-pounding page-turner of a mystery story.

(28) Being engaged in flow also prevents your brooding on negative thoughts.  When you brood your stress level goes up, driving your depression level up.  Brooding does have some initial benefit, because it allows us to think through why something went wrong and not make that mistake again.  But it has diminishing returns, and after the first hour or so past the first day of brooding you generally aren’t helping matters.  After that it is usually best to try to focus on something else, with several of the more engaging activities for most people being conversation and learning new interesting things.  If activities are intrinsically enjoyable people’s attention won’t be wandering.  They will not have to work to pay attention, they will be present, observing, and be breathing differently.  (Practical Tips to Practice Being Present)

(29) “David Hilbert was one of the great European mathematicians at the turn of the century. One of his students purchased an early automobile, and died in one of the first car accidents. Hilbert was asked to speak at the funeral. “Young Klaus,” he said, “was one of my finest students. He had an unusual gift for doing mathematics. He was interested in a great variety of problems, such as…” There was a short pause, followed by, “Consider the set of differentiable functions on the unit interval and take their closure in the …”” (Exactly Who and What is Your Instructor?)

(30) Jim Collins, the author of such books as, Good to Great, gives this career advice:  There is the set of all the things you are good at.  There is the set of all the things you love to do.  And there is the set of all the things you can make a living at.  Assuming these three sets intersect, pick from the intersect your choice of careers.

(31) Csikszentmihalyi has argued that one common characteristic a flow type activity must have is that there must be an appropriate level of challenge in the activity.  Beyond this, it seems that much of what makes something into an experience of flow for a person depends on the particulars of the individual.  The most enjoyable for most people are unfortunately very hard to turn into jobs: sex with a loving partner, socializing with friends, relaxing, meditating or praying, eating, and sports.  Of course, these are all activities that we evolved to enjoy back in the hunter-gatherer days when hunting and gathering were our jobs.  One way evolution gets an animal to do what it needs to do to survive is to make those things enjoyable.  Unfortunately the rise of civilization created a mismatch between those things we instinctively like to do, and what we have to do to get along in today’s world.  So an animal that was designed to go out and pack-hunt down a large dangerous animal for dinner, in a kind of thrilling sporting event, might now be working turning bolts 8 hours a day on an assembly line.  No wonder comparatively few people say, “I passionately love what I do.”  The least enjoyable activities are things like commuting, working, and doing housework.  I once thought of this party-proof that no job is fun: Suppose an employer has a job which is actually fun for most people, and he is paying someone $20/hour to do it.  As soon as word gets out someone will show up at his door and say, “I will do it for $19/hour.”  The next day it will be $18, and so on, until people are paying the employer to do the job.  So any job that does pay anything at all can’t be that job.  So, no job is fun.  This “proof” of course isn’t correct, because there can be barriers to entry, specialized abilities necessary to do the job, and someone might have unique tastes and preferences - enjoying a job few other people would, etc.  But what it does indicate is, all other things being equal, the more enjoyable a job is the less it will pay.  (See also Before the Fall, Evidence for a Golden Age by Steve Taylor – Lost Wanderer, The Worst Mistake In The History Of The Human Race by Jared Diamond – Lost Wanderer)

(32) I once had an instructor make the point that people wouldn’t want total certainty, because that would be boring.  (A Nice Place to Visit – Wikipedia)  People also don’t want total uncertainty, because that would be chaos.  What they want is to be in a state of reducing uncertainty.  An analogy seems in order:  A surfer doesn’t want to be on the shore.  He also doesn’t want to be out on the calm water.  He wants to be riding the wave into shore.  A happy life is then to be understood as action and process, to be in the middle of playing an enjoyable game, and not as a static place.  It also seems that the nature of the uncertainty matters.  Someone who buys fire insurance might still want to enjoy the thrill of a close basketball game.  So, some types of risks cause mostly unhealthy anxiety, and some cause mostly healthy thrill.  My belief is that good risks are those that dovetail with what would have been required activities in the Stone Age, and bad risks are those that don’t.

(33) The current dominate narrative in America today tells us that revenge and retribution are shocking and beyond the pale.  This isn’t true in all cultures, and since many people are wired to enjoy retribution it might be just as healing.  I think our society’s rejection of retribution and revenge might be analogous to the Victorian society’s purported rejection of sexual pleasure.  While it is true that sexual gratification is potentially a dangerous and destructive thing, witness the AIDS epidemic, in its proper place it is also a wonderful thing.  Perhaps revenge works the same way.  In pastoral societies, where no effective central law exists, cultures of honor develop where justice is founded on the threat of violent retribution for wrongs done.  Under these circumstances vengeance is not only allowed, but required.  (Culture of Honor: The Psychology of Violence in the South by Richard E. Nisbett)  Today, norms in hard-core prisons work much the same way.  The only thing that protects you is your reputation.  The rule is, “You can lose every time, but you must fight every time.”  As bad as this is, the alternative can be worse.  I also don’t think that a culture of honor is necessarily philosophically morally inferior to a culture of law.  My suspicion is that most Americans would see it that way because they have been trained to.  For whatever political reasons, this is the current consensus.  But if we were to tote up the costs and benefits it isn’t clear to me that one system would clearly win out.

(34)  In sports they put this way, “Control the controllables.”  For example, in tennis when receiving serve you can’t decide you will take it to your forehand side if he/she serves it to your backhand side.  You also can’t even directly control whether or not you will win the game.  That outcome depends also on what the other person/team does, and you have no control over that half of the equation.  But you can control how well you train.  So arrange your goals around what you can measure and influence.  All the rest of it will happen of its own accord.

(35) These pieces of advice are all attempting to combat low self-confidence.  To introduce a note of reality here, unfortunately lack of self-confidence might all too often arise from people’s accurate perceptions of themselves and their lives.  See foot note 17.

(36)  Repeating foot note 16, one test of whether or not a relationship is toxic for you is to ask yourself if you feel more energized or tired after spending time with that person.

(37) In a radio interview I heard, the speaker opined that a sense of humor can save your life.  For example, when Hitler was in power the Jews told many jokes about him:  “Two Jews noticed that every day Hitler would walk by their shop in the morning.  They devised a plan to get a big rock to drop on his head from the second story of their shop to kill him.  The next day they were waiting with the rock, but at his usual time of 8:00 a.m. he hadn’t come by.  At 9:00 he hadn’t come.  At 10:00 he hadn’t come.  Finally, one of them gets worried and says, “Gee, I hope he’s OK.” (One Life to Give by Andrew Bienkowski)

(38) Here are some random titles to get started: Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Secrets of Power Negotiating, How To Haggle: Professional Tricks For Saving Money On Just About Anything, Bare Knuckle Negotiating: Knockout Negotiation Tactics They Won’t Teach You At Business School, The Negotiation Toolkit: How to Get Exactly What You Want in Any Business or Personal Situation, Leverage: How to Get It and How to Keep It in Any Negotiation, Practical Negotiating: Tools, Tactics & Techniques, The Haggler’s Handbook: One Hour to Negotiating Power, National Negotiating Styles.

(39) You might start with: Don’t Say Yes When You Want to Say No: Making Life Right When It Feels All Wrong.

(40) Effective problem solving involves a large number of elements.  Here are but a tiny few:  Be proactive.  Don’t wait for a solution, but go out and find one.  Do your homework, and anticipate consequences.  Break the problem down into its sub-parts.  Look for someone else who has solved similar problems.  Look for analogies.  It is worthwhile to keep in mind that successful problem solving also often involves a large amount of domain specific knowledge.  (Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else by Geoff Colvin) In short, there’s often no substitute for really knowing what you’re talking about. (“The Complete Problem Solver” (1981 ed.)), “The Universal Traveler: A Soft-Systems Guide to: Creativity, Problem-Solving, and the Process of Reaching Goals“, Center for Creative Learning, The Myth of Creative Genius – Lost Wanderer, Problem solving – Wikipedia)

(41) Franklin’s 13 virtues are: temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquility, chastity, and humility.

(42) If you are having trouble getting started on a project one method is to just dive in to get going.   For example, if you are writing a paper put down everything you know, garbage and all, to get started.

(43) Of course it’s always a balance between being too close-minded for the wrong reasons, versus having no ability to filter out nonsense. (See, for example Deconstructionism is Horsesh*t – Lost Wanderer, Freudian Psychology is Horsesh*t – Lost Wanderer)  The only advice I can give in this regard is that there is no substitute for knowing a subject, and to let evidence and reason guide you in deciding what’s nonsense.

(, “The Happiness Myth: The Historical Antidote to What Isn’t Working Today” by Jennifer Hecht, “100 Simple Secrets of Happy People: What Scientists Have Learned and How You Can Use It” by David Niven, “Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth” by Ed Diener, The Politics of Happiness: What Government Can Learn from the New Research on Well-Being by Derek Bok, The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want by Sonja Lyubomirsky)


Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

The short list of things I would do to try to prevent schizophrenia will sound very familiar to anyone who reads this blog:  Both the future mother and offspring should get lots of vitamin D, should be on a Paleolithic Diet, have hookworms and whipworms, get plenty of sleep, have a good family, and live in a close community.  They should not be exposed to lead, should have low stress, no X-rays, and be of high status.  Neither of them should be exposed to the flu, toxoplasmosis, the Borna virus, rubella, cytomegalovirus, herpes simplex 2, and syphilis.  They also should avoid tobacco, cannabis, and other illegal drugs.  Also, the father should not be old. 

For a more detailed discussion you can read the rest of this blog entry:    

A diagnosis of schizophrenia is made on the basis of a patient’s symptoms, since there is no laboratory test for it.  Because of this, there is every likelihood that it is actually a cluster of conditions, each with a different etiology.  One school of thought even argues that we should diagnose people in terms of a series of dimensional continuums, instead of having a cut off for a diagnostic category.  Perhaps partly because of the uncertainties involved there many theories about schizophrenia’s ultimate cause.

Before I get to the more mainstream perspectives, I want to touch on the viewpoint of Thomas Szasz.  He’s skeptical of the whole medical model, and argues that schizophrenics have a legitimate way of looking at the world, are simply making people uncomfortable, and that society doesn’t have the right to control people for this reason alone.  (His position is closely related to the reasonable insight that cultural differences influence the rates of diagnosis, and that different cultures have different ways of dealing with the various forms of what we would call mental illnesses.)

My response to Szasz is to say that it isn’t true that schizophrenics are only making people uncomfortable, but that there are potentially lethal consequences in allowing someone who is delusional behind the wheel of a car.  Even if it were the case that schizophrenics universally had no complaints regarding their condition (which, in fact, isn’t true), I think that society should have the right to protect itself from the likely consequences of these people’s, so called, “different equally legitimate patterns of thought,” and in many circumstances it should be able to do so whether or not the schizophrenic agrees.  And, while we’re at it,  if others have to pay the bill for their maintenance, then those who have to work to support them should also have a say in their getting treatment.  If Szasz can show me the hard data that proves that schizophrenics are able to function perfectly well by living up the responsibilities of supporting themselves, of being responsible capable citizens, and they are happy with their condition then I might agree that we should drop the whole concept from the DSM.  But until then, I’m going to see it as a problem. (Schizophrenia – Schizophrenia as a social construct – Wikipedia

Szasz also argues that schizophrenia is simply a social construct, and as such doesn’t actually exist.  It’s true that we pick out those aspects of the world we find important, and package them into the concepts of our languages.  But the world imposes itself upon us, and so it is, at best, misleading to say that by doing so we are engaged in “constructing reality,” as opposed to responding to and taxonomizing it.  Using similar reasoning people have argued that gender doesn’t actually exist either.  (See: Deconstructionism is Horsesh*t – Lost Wanderer)       

Traveling further into la la land, in 1976, Julian Jaynes speculated that schizophrenia was the normal operation of the human mind until fairly recently.  Supposedly, up until about 3,000 years ago, people went around with minimal self awareness much of the time, and every now and then they would hallucinate, and “the Gods” would speak to them, which was actually their verbal left hemisphere sending them a message.  Civilization’s beginning marked the beginning of what we currently call normal self consciousness.  Jaynes’ ideas, like Szasz’s, don’t pass the giggle test, and strike me simply as an example of what has been called “fashionable nonsense,” since no one has ever reported any such observations with hunter gatherer peoples.  (The Legacy of Julian Jaynes by Dan Hartwig) (See also: Schizophrenia – Other proposed causes - Wikipedia)

Moving away from la la land, one theory is that schizophrenia is the price we pay for our large brains’ energy demands.  (Are big brains to blame for schizophrenia?)  Or perhaps it’s the result of our left brain specializing in language.  (Schizophrenia as failure of hemispheric dominance for language by TJ Crow) 

There are many genes which contribute to schizophrenia, (Schizophrenia Risk Gets More Complex) overlapping those that code for manic depression, (Unlocked: the secrets of schizophrenia by Steve Connor) and the fact that schizophrenics have low fecundity raises the question of why the genes that increase its incidence haven’t been selected out.  It could be that there are major advantages to having them, however currently there is no good theory as to what these might be.  It could also be that it’s a recent phenomenon arising out of some change in the relevant triggering environmental factors.  If this idea proves to be correct, it would mean that schizophrenia can be added to the long list of “Diseases of Civilization.”

A very credible candidate as a major cause of the disease is vitamin D deficiency.  John Cannell, of the vitamin D council, makes the case for this by pointing out such facts as the incidence of schizophrenia is much higher in people with dark skin who live at northern latitudes, and there is a 10 fold variance in the rate of schizophrenia that also follows the lines of latitude.  (Vitamin D and Schizophrenia)  Also, in a Finnish cohort study, vitamin D supplementation of at least 2,000 IU/day during a child’s first year was associated with a lower rate of the disease.  (Vitamin D supplementation during the first year of life and risk of schizophrenia: a Finnish birth cohort study)  Vitamin D might explain the fact that schizophrenia varies by the season of a child’s birth. (Relative Risk for Schizophrenia depending upon Month of Birth)  And one route through which Vitamin D could be acting is through its neuroprotective role in cleansing the body of heavy metals, such as lead. (See below) (Vitamin D protective against toxins – Vitamin D and Schizophrenia)

Another candidate cause is milk protein.  In one study 95% of autistic and schizophrenic children had 100 times the normal levels of milk protein in their blood and urine, and 80% of them had their symptoms resolve when they were put on a milk free diet.  (University of Florida Researchers Cite Possible Link Between Autism, Schizophrenia and Diet)

There is some evidence that gluten is the problem for a subset of patients.  (Schizophrenia – Alternative Medical Treatments – Wikipedia and Schizophrenia, gluten, and low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diets: a case report and review of the literature)  Consistent with this, the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD), which restricts complex carbohydrates and eliminates sugar, has been promoted for a wide variety of diseases, including schizophrenia.  (Specific Carbohydrate Diet – Wikipedia and Everything about The Specific Carbohydrate Diet totally explained)  (The SCD has much in common with the Paleolithic Diet (PD).  However, the PD allows tubers, and doesn’t allow cheese, yogurt, and legumes. (Everything about Paleolithic Diet totally explained and The Paleo Diet))

In the Dutch Famine Study, prenatal nutritional deprivation during the second trimester was found to double the rate of schizophrenia. (Dutch famine of 1944 - Wikipedia and Prenatal Risk Factors in Schizophrenia

Catching the flu in the first half of pregnancy leads to a 3-fold increase in the incidence of the disease, and if a women contracts this disease in the first 13 weeks the risk goes up 7-fold.  Although the nature of why this relationship exists isn’t clear, researchers estimate that 14% of cases might be linked to the flu in this way.  (Womb flu link to schizophrenia)  (See also: Coughs and sneezes spread mind diseases

Another infections organism that might lead to the disease is toxoplasmosis. (Toxoplasmosis Parasite May Trigger Schizophrenia And Bipolar Disorders)  The Borna virus might play a role (Borna Virus by Sean Henahan), as well as catching rubella or cytomegalovirus (a 17-fold risk increase) before age 12. (Prenatal Infection as a Risk Factor for Schizophrenia by Alan S. Brown and Childhood brain infections risk of schizophrenia )  Also, herpes simplex virus 2 (HVS-2) might be a risk factor. (Mother’s Herpes Virus Infection Associated With Schizophrenia In Her Offspring, Hopkins Researcher Finds).  When syphilis became treatable thousands of schizophrenics were cured. (Diseases of the Mind by Janet Ginsburg)  Some researchers believe that schizophrenia is caused by ancient viral DNA that became incorporated into our genome, which then becomes reactivated. (Is schizophrenia caused by an enemy within? by Joanna Marchant)  (See also: Plague Time by Paul Ewald)

A mother’s stress can be a contributing factor.  Looking at a cohort of Israeli children, who were in their second month of gestation during the 1967 Arab-Israeli conflict, for girls there was a 4-fold increase in schizophrenia later in life.  And when researchers looked at the mothers who had been subject to the worst stress of direct shelling they found a 30-fold increase.  (Early pregnancy trauma boosts schizophrenia risk)     

The children of older fathers suffer a slight reduction in IQ (2 points), and are at higher risk for such disorders as schizophrenia (50% more likely), autism and bipolar disorder.  (Children of older dads pay IQ price and Father’s age linked to schizophrenia risk)

Another factor that might increase the rate of schizophrenia is prenatal X-rays.  (X-Ray Radiation during Pregnancy & Early Childhood may increase risk of schizophrenia for child)

Perinatal traumatic events such as obstetric complications have been associated with schizophrenia in retrospective studies, however in the only prospective study done to date no such association was found.  (Prenatal Risk Factors in Schizophrenia by Alan S. Brown)

The use of cannabis and cigarette tobacco is associated with the disease.  Especially in this case I have to wonder about whether this is a causal relationship, or merely the case that those with the condition are more likely to use these products.  (Cannabis Increases Risk Of Psychosis and Brain Disorders, Smoking and Nicotine Addiction – Report Summary (March, 2006))  (See also: Psychiatric epidemiology: searching for the causes of mental disorders  by Ezra S. Susser) 

The same question can be raised about schizophrenia’s association with parental absence during early childhood (Causes of schizophrenia by Stephe Ellis and Children at risk for schizophrenia: a longitudinal perspective By Norman F. Watt), child abuse (Child Abuse can Cause Schizophrenia by Rick Nauert), living in an urban environment (Does the urban environment cause psychosis? and The schizophrenia envirome), poverty, migration, poor housing, racial discrimination, family dysfunction, double bind messages (Double bind – Wikipedia), bad sleep habits (Are bad sleeping habits driving us mad? by Emma Young), prenatal exposure to lead (which might double the risk) (Prenatal lead exposure linked to schizophrenia by Joanna Marchant), and unemployment. (Schizophrenia – Wikipedia, citations 60-65)

Looking more closely at what proximate mechanisms might be involved with the disease, studies indicate that inflammation as part of an overactive immune response is likely involved.  (Anti-Inflammatory Medications May Become A Treatment For Schizophrenia and Immune System Linked To Schizophrenia)  And glial cells, which play a key role in brain development, supporting the neurons, and fighting infection, have been suggested as a cause of the disease. (New schizophrenia theory by Alison Motluk)  (Of course, any mention of an overactive immune response leads me to bring up the topic of helminths as one potential therapeutic and preventive option.) (Autoimmune Therapies)

In looking for ways to develop a test for this disease researchers have noted that people who go on to develop schizophrenia lose their ability to identify smells before any clinical symptoms occur. (Could You Suffer From Psychosis? The Nose Knows) A blood test for schizophrenia might soon be available that is based on RNA molecules expressed from genes linked to the disease.  (Blood test for schizophrenia draws nearer by Marina Murphy)  Using brain imaging, researchers have shown that schizophrenic’s brains are much less reactive to images of bizarre facial images than controls. (Decoding Funny Faces To Detect Mental Illness) And another team of researchers has shown that children at high risk for later developing schizophrenia perform very poorly on tasks related to memory and executive functioning (planning, classifying, and interpreting information).  (Toward A Test For Childhood Detection Of Risk Of Bipolar Disorder And Schizophrenia

As for current treatments, factors which influence the likelihood of recovery include: “1) family relationships, 2) substance abuse, 3) duration of untreated psychosis, 4) initial response to medication, 5) adherence to treatment, 6) supportive therapeutic relationships, 7) cognitive abilities, (8) social skills, 9) personal history, and 10) access to care.”  (UCLA Study Names 10 Keys To Recovery From Schizophrenia

I do not have a citation for the source, but I remember once reading that in the United States years ago patients were treated by going to religious revival meetings.  They were in a supportive environment that made sense of their condition as a result of sin in the world.  This form of treatment was reported to have had a great deal of success until it broke down by being overwhelmed by the increasing number of patients.  Apparently a Hindu Temple can accomplish the same thing.  Researchers report that patients who spent six weeks in a temple had as much improvement as a month long course of standard drugs.  The secret is apparently a community that gives people a supportive environment, in tune with their own cultural beliefs, along with the hope of recovery.  (Temple treatment for psychiatric illness by Anil Ananthaswamy, Bangalore)

Looking at the more invasive types of treatments, researchers have found that electroshock can be productively combined with conventional drug therapies, making them more effective. (Electroshock Therapy Speeds Improvement In Schizophrenia Patients)   

An interesting fact about schizophrenics is that they see through the “hollow mask illusion.”  In controls communication between the parietal cortex, which is involved in the top-down control processing of visual information, and the lateral occipital cortex, which is involved in bottom-up processing, increased when the hollow faces were presented.  This did not happen with schizophrenics, which indicated that these different areas of the brain were unable to communicate normally. (Hollow Mask Illusion Fails To Fool Schizophrenia Patients

For those who might want to know what it’s like to be a schizophrenic, one doctor has recreated the experience of schizophrenia in a virtual second-life type of world.  (A Lever to Move the Mind)

Finally, to end on a somewhat positive note, some genes that increase the odds of schizophrenia also appear to increase creativity.  (Artistic tendencies linked to ‘schizophrenia gene’ by Ewen Callaway)

Your Body’s Biological Rhythms and Your Health

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

Circadian cycles, menstrual cycles, and seasonal cycles guarantee that the biology of the human body isn’t constant throughout the day, the month, or the year.  Building on this fact, chronotherapy is the practice of coordinating the taking of medical drugs and treatments with our biological rhythms.   In one study it was found that scheduling breast cancer surgery at different points in a woman’s menstrual cycle changed the likelihood of tumor reoccurrence after 5 years from 76% to 63%.  Other diseases, such as asthma and arthritis, follow daily patterns, and timing medication doses can maximize blood levels of medications during the worst daily phases of them.  (A time to Heal: Chronotherapy Tunes into Body’s Rhythms)  And taking chemotherapy at the right point during the day has been found to boost its cancer treatment effectiveness while minimizing side effects.  (Circadian rhythms boost cancer therapies

Not respecting our body’s natural rhythms can create a host of problems.  Researchers have found that people who repeatedly disrupt their normal circadian cycle over years could be suffering shrinkage of their temporal lobes, and this in turn seems to affect short term objective memory and simple abstract cognition.  Previous work has suggested that such disruptions might also affect heart disease and breast cancer risks.  One reason why this could be is that the pineal gland secretes melatonin at night, and disruption of this system has been implicated in cancers. (Jetlag ‘shrinks the brain, Artificial lighting in the industrialized world: circadian disruption and breast cancer by Richard G. Stevens, and (Shortness of Dark by Allen Bellows)  At night the body stays awake by activating the stress response, and this in turn weakens the immune system.   The scheduling of surgery from morning to afternoon can affect the rate of adverse health events due to anesthesia, and part of this could be due to people being at different points of their cycles.  (Time of Surgery Influences Rate of Adverse Health Effects Due to Anesthesia)  There is even the concern that exposing infants to constant light prevents infants from developing normal circadian rhythms to begin with.  (Artificial Light and the Biological Clock)

Michael Smolensky, et al., even advocate that people should construct their own personal “chronorecord,” which is a recording of all their cycles.   In this way a person can synchronize their internal clock with their health care and other various activities.  (The Body Clock Guide to Better Health: How to Use Your Body’s Natural Clock to Fight Illness and Achieve Maximum Health (Paperback) by Michael Smolensky)

Migraine Headaches

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

I’ve had migraines all my life. (Migraine – Wikipedia, Migraine)  Because of this, I’m interested in new treatments and theories as they come along, and the most interesting idea I’ve run across regarding migraines is that they are an allergic phenomenon.

In one study, Jean Monro, MD, of Hereforshire, England, reports that 100% of a group of 282 patients were found to have food allergies related to migraine headaches.  Over 200 of her subjects turned out to be allergic to wheat or dairy products, or both.  The other most common triggers were tea, oranges, apples, onions, pork, and beef.  Monro, et al., found that the usual suspects, cheeses, alcohol, and chocolate weren’t that important; while perfume, gasoline, cigarette smoke, and other such fume sources could be significant triggers.  Reducing the patient’s total allergic load was usually sufficient to control the migraines, although vaccinations were sometime also used.  (To head off an attack Monro also recommends taking oxygen, alkaline salts (1), and buffered vitamin C.) (Migraine Headaches and Food)

In another study supporting this idea, 2/3 of severe migrainers were found to be allergic to some foods.  (Food allergy in migraine.  Study of dietary exclusion and RAST by Monro, et al.)  And in yet another, 36 of 45 children had some response to dietary modifications. (Oligoantigenic diet treatment of children with epilepsy and migraine by Egger J. et al.) (2)  (Studies Bolster Link of Food and Migraines by Sandra Blakeslee)

(Given the food-migraine connection, I have to put in another plug for the Paleolithic Diet.  Even though some of the foods in it are listed above, wheat and dairy products aren’t, and I suspect it might do a lot of migrainers quite a bit of good to try it.)

If I take a quick look at what might explain at least part of the connection between migraines and allergies, a major candidate that stands out is histamine.  Histamine is a biogenic amine, which is involved in allergic reactions, and increased levels of histamine correlate with migraine headaches in vulnerable patients.  (Histamine – Wikipedia, Migraine Headaches – The role of antihistamine therapy in vascular headaches by MansfieldA correlation between migraine , histamine and immunoglobulin e. by Gazereni P, et al.)  Further evidence for this connection comes from the fact that migraine headache sufferers are especially prone to motion sickness, and Antivert, an antihistamine, is often prescribed for motion sickness.  And in another study daily doses of three antioxidants reduced migraines. (And antioxidants are useful in both treating the allergic phenomenon of asthma, and in reducing histamine levels.)  (Important Antioxidants for Asthma Relief by Rudy Silva)  Dr. Sirichai Chayasirisobhon gave patients pine bark extract, and vitamin C and E for three months, with a resulting 50.6% improvement in their MIDAS scores.  (Use of a Pine Bark Extract and Antioxidant Vitamin Combination Product as Therapy for Migraine in Patients Refractory to Pharmacologic Medication, Enzogenol)  Also, Butterbur is a natural antihistamine, which is used to treat both migraines and asthma.  (

Migraines also overlap with a host of immune related disorders, including fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, multiple chemical sensitivity, restless leg syndrome, irritable bowl syndrome.  (Overlaps with Fibromyalgia, Irritable Bowl Increases Risk of Other Conditions, High Risk of Migraine, Depression and Chronic Pain for IBS Sufferers, Large Study Shows.

(As a side note, it seems that there is some evidence that food allergies are not only connected to migraines, but could also be partly responsible for the obesity epidemic.  Study Confirms: Your Hidden Food Allergies are Making you Fat)

The connection between migraines and allergies also provides evidence that disorders that are comorbid with migraines might be partly allergic in origin.  Examples of these would include a number of mood related disorders, including depression, anxiety, panic attack, substance abuse disorders, and phobias.  (Mood Disorders, Migraines Might be Connected)  Migraines are associated with skin sensitivity and pain. (Migraine Increase Risk of Severe Skin Sensitivity and Pain)   Women with endometriosis are twice as likely to get migraines. (Common fertility condition linked to migraines)  Migraines are linked to blood clots in veins.  (Migraines Linked to Blood Clots in Veins)  Migraines might cause brain damage, and pose a stroke risk for women on the pill. (Do Migraines Cause Brain Damage? and Migraines and stroke risk, especially for women on the pill)  They are associated with retinopathy, and heart disease. (History of Migraines Associated with Increased Risk of Retinopathy and Migraines Associated with Increased Risk of Cardiovascular Disease)  Migraines are linked to sleep disorders in children. (Link Between Migraines and Sleep Disorders in Children)  In addition, migraines might explain the phenomenon of children who experience cyclic vomiting.  The theory is that instead of having the headache pain the children express the underlying disorder by vomiting repeatedly. (Cyclic Vomiting – Gabe Mirkin)

For anyone who has been following this blog, the connection of migraines with allergies obviously and strongly argues for using helminths (hookworms and whipworms) as a treatment.  (  With this in mind, I was treated with 50 hookworms some 18 months ago.  As a result my migraines have been reduced by about 50% in frequency, and 25% in intensity.  I also can now read in a moving car, which before the treatment would have made me nauseous.

Any explanation for migraine headaches is overwhelmingly likely to involve a network of interlinked causal pathways consisting of nonexclusive mitigating and aggravating factors, which will vary somewhat between individuals.  So it isn’t surprising that there are a number of other theories out there about migraine’s origin: 

One theory is that some migraines are triggered when opposite surfaces of nasal cavities rub against one another.  In a study based on this idea, after sinus surgery both the rate and intensity of migraines were significantly reduced.  (Nasal surgery hope for migraine

Another theory is that some cases of migraines are the result of a comparatively minor heart defect.  When a child is born the heart has to change its flow of blood circulation to include the lungs.  This change of blood flow requires closing off of a hole, the patent forum ova, between the two upper chambers of the heart.  In some people this doesn’t fully close, and surgery that closes it ends migraines in 80% of patients who have had the operation. (Plugging hole in heart slashes migraines)

For what it’s worth, migraine attacks are also associated with the weather. (Higher Temperatures, Lower Barometric Pressures Associated with…)

Here are three lists of the current standard treatments for migraines from WebMD,, and Wrong Diagnosis. (Migraine Headache Treatment, Treatments for Migraine, Treatments for Migraine)

In addition to the above, other treatments which might give relief include:  

Researchers are experimenting with a Transcranial Magnetic Stimulator (TMS) used to fire magnetic pulses into a person’s head.  (Magnetic gun has cure for headaches in its sites by Michael Fox and Jonathan Leake)  From Gut Buddies, gumEase is a cryoanesthesia mouthpiece originally developed for dental anesthesia.  It fits over the teeth and cools them to -7 degrees C, which numbs the nerves, allowing dental procedures to be performed.  It turns out that it also stops migraine and tension headaches.  (CryoDevices, Olympic Dental and Medical Devices, Study to Determine Efficiency of gumEase…migraine)  Also from Gut Buddies, meditation has been found to be helpful for a wide variety of conditions, including migraines.  ( – Meditation by John Scott, Lost_Wanderer – Meditation)  Exercise has been shown to reduce migraines. (Exercise Reduces Migraine Suffering, Study Finds)  A new drug, Levadex seems like a promising treatment. (Novel, Orally Inhaled Migraine Therapy is Effective, Study Shows)  The herbal medication Migrowin has been successfully used for migraines.  (Herbal Medication Relieves Painful Migraine Headaches)  Paradoxically folic acid (folate) has been recommended as a treatment for migraines, even though it can raise histamine levels. (Folic acid may offer relief for migraine sufferers, Rhyme of the Ancient Wanderer – Minerals and Vitamins…a breakdown)  Magnesium supplementation has been shown to reduce migraines. (Magnesium & Migraine by Christina Peterson)  Botox has been used with some success in treating migraines. (Chronic Migraine Patients may find Relief in Botox Therapy)  Having a forehead lift has been shown to be effective with some migraine patients. (New Hope for Migraine Sufferers: Forehead Lifts can Ease Years and Headaches)  

(Although it is not directly related to migraines, out of a concern for being thorough in my discussion of headaches, I feel the need to mention the idea that some people have been advocating the use of magic mushrooms as a treatment for cluster headaches. (Lost_Wanderer – Magic Mushrooms))

Finally, to end on a few positive notes, one study indicated that an actual benefit of migraines might be increased libido.  In it migrainers averaged 20% higher libido, which, in turn, was related to their reduced serotonin levels.  (Of course, this might help explain the migraine-depression connection noted earlier.)  (Yes, tonight darling, I have a headache by Karla Gale)  Migraine might protect your memory. (Does Migraine Protect Your Memory?)  And women who have migraines appear to have a lower risk of breast cancer. (Link Between Migraines and Reduced Breast Cancer Confirmed in Follow-up Study)

(1)  Alka-Seltzer Gold without aspirin, or two tablespoons of milk of magnesia, or 2 tablespoons of baking soda with one tablespoon of potassium bicarbonate in a pint of water.

(2)  An Oligoantigenic diet is a diet with the least possible risk of allergic reactions.


Saturday, September 12th, 2009

Summing this blog entry up, I would say that the likely major ways of greatly reducing your risk of diabetes boils down to: getting enough vitamin D, having helminths (hookworms and whipworms), eating a Paleolithic Diet, engaging in intermittent fasting, exercising, getting enough sleep in complete darkness, consuming curry, cinnamon, and cloves; and avoiding toxins.    

I previously blogged about the theory that in Type I diabetes the beta cells aren’t dead, but instead malfunctioning pain cells in the pancreas are preventing them from producing insulin.  (A Cure for Diabetes?)  Of course, there are a quite a few more ideas out there about the condition:

In Finland, a cohort of infants born in 1966 were given vitamin D supplements of up to 8,000 IU/day, and had about 1/3 the rate of type I diabetes as other cohort groups.  (Intake of vitamin D and risk of type I diabetes: a birth-cohort study)   Finland later adopted a level of vitamin D supplementation closer to that of the United States, and their population naturally has lower levels of sun exposure, so today the blood levels of vitamin D there are likely very low.  Today Finland is the diabetes capital of the world.  (Finnish epidemic offers clues to diabetes)  (See also: Vitamin D Council

Helminths might play a role in preventing diabetes through down regulating the immune system.  (Review series on helminths, immune regulation and the hygiene hypothesis) (See also: Hookworms are our Little Friends)

The nitrates in our foods might be risk factors for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and diabetes.  These nitrates are found especially in bacon, cured meats, and ground beef; but they are also in such products as beer, cheese, water, rubber and latex products, cosmetics, fertilizers, and pesticides.  (Processed foods linked to Alzheimer’s and diabetes)  Avoiding such foods supports the argument for the Paleolithic Diet, which according to one man’s experience cured his type II diabetes. (Paleo Diet – So Easy a Caveman Can Do It!)  The Paleolithic Diet people argue that the high glycemic foods we eat cause chronic hyperinsulinemia, which leads to a host of diseases, including diabetes. (Hyperinsulinemic diseases of civilization: more than just Syndrome X)  Advocates of the sweetener Xylitol argue that it is ideal for diabetic patients.  (The Sweet Miracle of Xylitol, and Xylitol)  Celiac disease, which is an autoimmune disease caused by an immune reaction to the gluten found in grains,  is associated with a number of conditions, including diabetes, short stature, infertility, and anemia.  (Largest Study Ever Finds That One Out of Every 133 Americans May Have Celiac Disease

Intermittent fasting can help prevent diabetes and brain deterioration.  (Meal Skipping Helps Resist Diabetes, Brain Damage, and Posts Tagged ‘Intermittent Fasting’)

Exercise reduces the risk of diabetes through weight control, growth factor changes, and the reduction of inflammation. (Exercise builds brain health: key roles of growth factor cascades and inflammation, and Changes in Vigorous Physical Activity and Incident Diabetes in Male Runners)  In one study, multiple short duration exercise sessions of 3 x 10 min/day are superior to 1 x 30 min/day in glycemic control.  Cardiovascular fitness improvements were similar for the two groups.  (Comparison of the effect of multiple short-duration with single long-duration exercise sessions on glucose homeostasis in type 2 diabetes mellitus)  Apparently 4 x 30 second sprints 3 times a week can greatly reduce the risk of diabetes and heart disease.  (Short fast sprints ‘cut’ diabetes, and Extremely short duration high intensity interval training substantially improves insulin action in young healthy males)

Heavy snoring, sleep apnea, and insomnia have been implicated in cardiovascular diseases, cancers, and diabetes.  Researchers have found that losing even a single night’s sleep causes the immune system to turn against healthy tissues in an autoimmune reaction.  (Getting a Handle on Why We Sleep)  The book, Lights Out: Sleep, Sugar, and Survival argues that our lack and sleep, and especially darkness, fouls up our hormonal systems; this greatly contributes to such diseases as diabetes, depression, heart disease, and cancer.  The author advises getting enough sleep, and sleeping in total darkness. (See also: Posts Tagged ‘Sleep’

Nursing an infant reduces his/her later risk of diabetes, cancer, allergies, infections, and arthritis. (Nursing Mothers…But Still Best for Babies)

Men with short legs, possibly caused by malnutrition during their first three months of gestation in utero, are at increased risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease.  (Men with Short Legs More Likely to Suffer Heart Attacks

Large amounts of curry (turmeric) stops diabetes in diabetic mice.  (Curry for Diabetes)  Cinnamon and cloves improve risk factors for diabetes and heart disease.  (Cinnamon, Cloves Improve Insulin Function)  Dr. Richard A. Anderson found that doses of 1 to 6 grams of cinnamon daily improved blood profiles of diabetic patients.  (A Spoonful of Cinnamon Helps Treat Diabetes)

Exposure to pesticides and air pollution have both been linked to diabetes.  A major chemical accident happened in Seveso Italy, and years later those townspeople with higher levels of persistent organic pollutants in the fat in their bodies suffered much higher levels of type II diabetes.  (Could the diabetes epidemic be down to pollution?)  The use of the pesticide trichlorfon has been found to increase the risk of diabetes by 85%.  (Pesticides linked to diabetes risk)  Arsenic might be a risk factor for diabetes, since people with traces of it in their urine are more likely to suffer from it.  (Are Traces of Arsenic in Tap Water Linked to Diabetes?)

Gastric bypass can cause remission in Type II diabetes independently of weight loss or obesity.  What might be happening in that the upper intestines, the duodenum and jejunum, produce a regulatory hormone, anti-incretin, which is activated by the passage of food through this part of the intestine.  Anti-incretins lower the insulin level, and incretins raise it; and together they regulate its levels.  Researchers speculate that diabetics produce excess anti-incretin, which drives down their insulin, and block its action.  (Rethink On Cause of Type 2 Diabetes

The malarial drug hydroxychloroquine HCQ might prevent the development of diabetes in arthritic patients.  (Antimalarial Drug Prevents Diabetes in Arthritis Patients, Study Suggests)

The risk of getting Alzheimer’s doubles if a person has diabetes before age 65.  (Getting Diabetes Before 65 More Than Doubles Risk for Alzheimer’s Disease)  And Alzheimer’s might be a third form of diabetes.  (Discovery supports theory of Alzheimer’s disease as a form of diabetes)  (See also Alzheimer’s)  Children of mothers with autoimmune diseases, such as diabetes, arthritis, and celiac disease, have up to three times the risk of getting autism.  (From Gut Buddies, Autism May be Linked to Mom’s Autoimmune Disease)

It’s little surprise that misinformation regarding diabetes comes from our government, and it’s likely that the diabetic dietary guidelines recommend such a high level of grain consumption they actually increase your chances of becoming diabetic.  (The Best Way to Get Diabetes: Follow the Diabetes Dietary Guidelines)  Also, the GI index is very over simplified.  (GI Blues: What’s wrong with the GI Diet? Interindividual Variability and Intra-Individual Reproducibility of Glycemic Index Values for Commercial White BreadGlycemic Index Values Vary from One Test to the Next)  More misleading information comes from the book, The China Study, which concludes that there is a strong relationship between consuming animal products and numerous diseases, such as diabetes, cancers, heart disease, autoimmune diseases, etc.  Of course, the Paleolithic Diet people would argue that this is because of the types of meats we consume, which come from domesticated grain fed animals.  This relationship wouldn’t exist if the animal products people ate were from healthy grass consuming wild animals.

Pregnancy & Child Related Information

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

I’ve previously blogged about how geophagy (eating clay) has been practiced for thousands of years to prevent morning sickness.  Pregnant women become hyper-sensitive to environmental toxins, and morning sickness helps protect the developing fetus from deformities.  It now turns out that all that misery could pay off for yet another reason, because women who have a greater degree of morning sickness might have more intelligent babies.  (Morning Sickness may be Sign of a Bright Baby)  The researchers involved theorize that the hormones which cause it might also protect a baby’s brain.  

S. Boyde Eaton, et al., have written (Dietary Intake of Long-Chain Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids during the Paleolithic, p. 20) that our brains are somewhat smaller than our Paleolithic ancestor’s brains, and that one reason might be our modern dietary deficiency in DHA omega-3 fats.  Along with DHA, it seems that, for rats, enriching the environment of the mother long before she becomes pregnant can affect the learning of her offspring.  Researchers theorize that the mother’s learning affects the nature of the hormones she will release during her later pregnancies.  This will affect epigenetic chemical markers on her offspring’s genes, which will in turn affect these genes’ expression during brain development, finally causing changes in the brains of the pups.  (Can Experiences be Passed on to Offspring? and A Mother’s Experience can Alter her Offspring’s Memory Performance)  Meanwhile, stress during pregnancy very likely harms a baby’s brain, and might increase the risk of schizophrenia.  Researchers think the mechanism is likely related to the stress hormone cortisol crossing the placenta.  (Stress Harms Baby’s Brain While in Womb)  Another possible factor that could increase the risk of schizophrenia is having the flue during pregnancy. (Flue During Pregnancy may Increase Risk of Schizophrenia in Certain Offspring

There are some indications that vitamin D deficiency is a risk factor for preeclampsia.  (Vitamin D for the Prevention of Preeclampsia?  A Hypothesis.)  This is a condition that occurs in pregnancy, which causes the patient to develop hypertension, along with protein in their urine.  It’s widespread, affecting about 10% of pregnancies, and is currently only treatable through termination.  It is most common in first pregnancies, and some researchers think that it’s the result of the mother’s immune system inappropriately attacking fetal cells.  The theory is that they are being triggered by the foreign antigens that were introduced by the father.  So, besides vitamin D supplementation, another recommendation is to delay pregnancy for a while after beginning sexual relations, on the theory that this allows the mother’s immune system to become acquainted with the father’s sperm’s antigens.  (Introduction and Overview of Evolutionary Medicine (p.24) by Wenda R. Trevathan, et al.) 

Low levels of vitamin D are also associated with chronic pain and muscle weakness, which suggests this might be a possible factor in a painful difficult birth. (Lack of Vitamin D Linked to Pain, and Recent Developments in Vitamin D Deficiency and Muscle Weakness Among Elderly People)  Stephan Guyenet, of Whole Health Source, reports that pelvic inlet depth index was larger in our hunter-gatherer ancestors (97.7% versus 92.1% today), and that this might be still another reason why childbirth is difficult for modern people.  (Longevity & Health in Ancient Paleolithic vs. Neolithic peoples)  Because vitamin K2 deficiency narrows the bone structure of the face, it seems natural to speculate that this could also be part of the reason for our lower pelvic inlet depth index today. 

Difficult births lead to caesareans, and, using MRIs, researchers have been able to show that women who have had c-sections had lower response levels to their baby’s cries.  This might indicate weaker bonding with their infants.  Researchers suggested that this possibly occurred because these women missed out on the hormonal priming from oxytosin that takes place during a vaginal delivery.  (C-sections may Weaken Bonding with Baby)  

Home birthing is as safe as in the hospital.  Two studies, one from the Netherlands and the other from Canada, found no evidence of greater death rates among home births, for low risk pregnancies, in either the mothers or their babies.  In the Netherlands study nearly 1/3 of those who started at home did end up being transferred to the hospital, but the risk was no greater than those mothers who had started out in the hospital.  Researchers said that a good midwife was the key. (Home Births “as Safe as Hospital,” and Home Birth with Midwife as Safe as Hospital Birth, Study) (See also: The Natural Family Site, and Why Have Natural Childbirth?) 

Also, as I previously blogged, some people claim that placenta eating can prevent postpartum depression.  (Placenta

The natural childrearing people argue against circumcision on a number of grounds, including that they believe there doesn’t seem to be much of a reason for it.  (Put Down that Knife!  11 Reasons not to Circumcise, Circumcision – Wikipedia, and Circumcision Rates)

Pacifiers reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) by about 90%.  (Pacifier Greatly Reduces Risk of Sudden Infant Death)  They reduce the risk regardless whether or not the infant sleeps on his/her stomach, in soft bedding, or his/her mother smoked.  Problems such as thumb sucking, tooth development, and difficulties breast feeding can be avoided by waiting a few weeks before using one, and stopping when they become toddlers.  (However, there apparently is a trade-off, because, according to Gabe Mirkin, studies from Finland found that children who use pacifiers are more likely to have recurrent ear infections.)  Other people also recommend co-sleeping as protective.  (See below)  One more way of lowering the risk of SIDS is by using a fan to circulate the air in the room.  This reduces the risk by 72%. (Fan Use Linked to Lower Rate of Sudden Infant Death)  (See also: Sudden infant death syndrome – Wikipedia)

Coming to very similar conclusions as The Continuum Concept by Jean Liedloff, here is an article on Evolutionary Psychology: Natural Parenting - Back to Basics in Infant Care by Regine A. Schon.     Matt Metzgar wrote up this outline.  (I inserted some additional materials and links):  

Evolutionary Function of Crying (For a second opinion see: Should Infants be Allowed to Cry Themselves to Sleep?)

  • Crying signals genuine needs of the infant
  • Crying should be immediately attended to by the mother or caregiver
  • Crying takes significant physical effort on the part of the infant
  • The immediate response to crying should be to restore physical contact between the caregiver and the infant

Infants as Carried Young

  • Hunter-gatherer women carried their infants in slings close to the body
  • This increased beneficial skin-to-skin contact between the mother and the infant
  • The common leg positions of babies suggest they are adapted for carrying

Cosleeping  (Regarding co-sleeping: Mr. Metzgar cites this article (which argues in favor of it), Why Babies Should Never Sleep Alone: A Review of the Co-sleeping Controversy in Relation to SIDS, Bedsharing, and Breastfeeding, and this site, Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory.  See also: The Benefits of Co-Sleeping)       

  • Cosleeping for the infant and mother has been the universal norm throughout most of human history
  • Bedsharing is the environment to which the vulnerable newborn is best adapted
  • Cosleeping may reduce some forms of SIDS

Breastfeeding (See also: Breastfeeding Linked to Smarter Babies (Again)  This article points out that, as well as being correlated with 5.9 points of higher IQ, breastfeeding also apparently reduces the chances of a mother later developing rheumatoid arthritis, and lessons the child’s odds of later developing cardiovascular disease.  This article, Big Bad Cavities: Breastfeeding is not the Cause, states that more than three dozen studies have shown no link between breastfeeding and the disease of Early Childhood Carries (ECC).  Medical News Today reports that the concentration of volatile organic compound toxins in breast milk are much lower than indoor air, and also much lower than the safe levels for drinking water. (Concentrations of Certain Toxins in Breast Milk are Low, Study Finds))

  • No alternative to breast milk existed before the transition to a farming economy
  • Therefore, infants have been breastfed for 99% of all human existence
  • Artificial substitutes have been unable to replicate the complex structure of breast milk
  • There is mounting evidence about the many benefits of breastfeeding on child development


  • Human infants are born in an exceptionally immature state
  • The conditions for the early part of infant life should attempt to mimic that of the womb
  • This includes close contact with the mother’s body in a tight, warm embrace
  • Heartbeat sounds are comforting to an infant; women tend to hold infants on the left side of their body, close to their hearts
  • Rocking an infant provides a calming effect since it mimics the movement stimulation the infant received from the mother’s normal daily movements
  • Swaddling replicates the feeling of the womb and has been proven effective in calming infants

Toilet Training  (What is Infant Potty Training, Benefits of Infant Potty Training, Infant Potty Training, The Controversy over Infant Potty Training, Shaping self-initiated toileting in infants)  (There are also major health benefits of squatting instead of sitting for defecation.  (The Squat Toilet)  The repeated refrain is to do things the way nature intended.)

  • Infants were historically toilet trained much earlier than in modern times
  • Natural toilet training depends on reading an infant’s signals and responding appropriately
  • Children trained in this way complete toilet training anywhere from 6 months to 2 years

Matt also reviewed this book, The 90-Minute Sleep Baby Program.  As he says, the basic idea behind the book is that humans have a 90 minute cycle of activity and rest.  This means that when a baby wakes up their next nap should be 90 minutes later.  (Older children might string several of these together.)  22 out of 27 reviews on Amazon gave the book 5 stars.  Matt speculates that many children today are sleep deprived, which is obviously troublesome.  It turns out that sleep deprived children have twice the risk of becoming obese.  (Sleep Deprivation Doubles the Risk of Obesity in Both Children and Adults

Matt also very favorably reviewed, The Happiest Baby on the Block.  The author argues that babies need a uterus like environment, and he suggests a number of tactics for mimicking it.  These include swaddling, shh sounds, side/stomach position, swinging, and sucking.  He claims that his program will calm almost all babies.  

Matt also pointed out Baby Sign Language, which allows the infant to communicate his/her needs at a much younger age.  I think it’s very surprising that this wasn’t stumbled upon thousands of years ago, yet it is a remarkably simple and wonderful advancement.  It apparently isn’t some sort of silly fad, but brings real benefits, which I think all parents would appreciate, including greatly reduced frustration on everyone’s part, and increased language skills. 

Matt has blogged about Baby Led Weaning, which takes the position that children shouldn’t be fed pureed foods (Pureed Food “isn’t Natural for Babies’), but instead weaned directly onto solid foods.  The argument behind the idea is that this is much closer to the way our ancestors would have done it.  (It should be said that hunter-gatherers often did pre-chew the child’s food to help him/her along.)   

I have blogged before about going barefoot, and children who go barefoot as long as possible have about half the rate of flat footedness later on.  Having said that, being flat footed doesn’t appear to be as big a problem as people once thought.  There appears to be no relationship between the height of children’s arches and their ability to perform athletically, and it very well also might not affect their injury rates. (Flat Feet don’t Impair Kid’s Motor Skills)  

A study from Sweden concluded that risk factors for snoring as an adult include respiratory and ear infections as a child, being raised in a large family, and being exposed to a dog at home as a newborn. (Have A Dog? Your Child is More Likely to Snore as an Adult) 

Children who suffer from cyclic vomiting might actually be suffering from migraines. (Gabe Mirkin: Cyclic Vomiting

Low levels of carbon monoxide, 25 parts per million, might cause oxidative stress on the cochlear nerve, and permanently damage the hearing of children.  Such carbon monoxide can come from tobacco, cooking, and heating appliances.  (How Chronic Exposure to Tiny Levels of Carbon Monoxide Damages Hearing in Young Ears)  However, the main cause of hearing loss in modern world is loud noise.  The blast from a single gunshot, or the loud prolonged noise of a rock concert, can result in permanent hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing in the ears).

Many cases of bed-wetting might be caused by breathing problems.  63% of bed-wetting children stopped when they had surgery to remove their adenoids or tonsils, and the use of a plate to widen the palate of bed-wetters with narrow palates ended the condition in 70% of cases. (Breathing Troubles the Cause of Bed-wetting?)   Gabe Mirkin discusses another theory, that it’s the lack of antidiuretic hormone that causes the problem.  This hormone causes the kidneys to shut down at night.  (Bedwetting

The BBC reports that a 10 minute test for dyslexia has been developed that can be used starting at age 3 & 1/2.  (Early Warning Test for Dyslexia)  The test has children repeat sentences and re-tell a story while looking at how the child builds sounds up into words.  For parents of children who seem a little different there is the book, Quirky Kids: Understanding and Your Child Who Doesn’t Fit In- When To Worry And When Not To Worry.  One reviewer thought the book would be most helpful to parents who are just beginning to suspect something is unusual, but don’t know what might be the problem.  It also debunks a number of folk myths out there, and reportedly has a good section on the pros and cons of various medications.  Science Daily has this article, Specific Behaviors Seen in Infants Can Predict Autism, New Research Shows, which reports that Canadian researchers have discovered that there are behavioral signs that can accurately predict autism in children as young as one year old.  (See also: The Vitamin D Theory of Autism)

According to a study by the University of Rochester Medical Center, there is no detectable risk to children from the mercury in the seafood their mother’s ate, up to 12 servings a week.  The study period was before birth to age 9, and the children were tested for 21 different cognitive, neurological and behavioral functions.  These abilities included concentration, attention, problem-solving, and motor skills. (No Detectable Risk From Mercury in Seafood, Study Shows

Tonsils serve to trap germs and train the white blood cells when children are young, but as they grow older their importance lessons.  Doctors generally seem to say that their removal can be justified if they obstruct the throat, or the child suffers from frequent throat infections.  (Dr. Alan Green on Tonsil Removal)    

Not surprisingly, mother’s who talk about people’s mental states, such as beliefs, wants, and intentions, have children with a greater understanding of social interactions.  (This obviously does not establish causation, because mothers with greater social skills might pass on genes that also dispose their children to have those same skills.)  Researchers note that these greater social skills do not necessarily imply that these children will be better behaved. (The Secret to Building Children’s Social Skills)   The Incredible Years is an organization which hosts a variety of programs for teaching parents, teachers, and children social skills.  It turns out the ability of a mother to read her child’s emotions is more important than her social status for the child’s development. (Why Mind-Reading Mums are Best

Not surprisingly, children are happier who have a sense of spirituality, that is meaning in life, and they think that their lives have value.  Good interpersonal relationships also helped, and accounted for 27% of the happiness variation between children.  Being more sociable was also a happiness predictor.  (Spirituality is key to kids’ happiness

Researchers want to know why some children are resilient in spite of bad upbringings.  They have found that resilient children tend to share a number of characteristics:  They have at least one supportive person in their life, have a positive outlook, a pleasant altruistic personality, they are eager to learn, and have problem-solving skills.  They take responsibility for their mistakes, and move on.  They also have an interest or friend they can turn to when they need to.  (This description to me sounds somewhat like the characteristics of lucky people.)  (Raising Resilient Children Foundation, their book, Psychosocial Characteristics of Resilient Children, and The Resilient Child)

Sara Bennett and Nancy Kalish, in The Case Against Homework: How Homework is Hurting our Children and What We Can Do About It, argue that there’s almost no evidence that homework helps kid’s academic success.  They point out that the amount of homework has skyrocketed in recent years, which is contributing to an epidemic of obesity, and robs kids of the time they need to be kids.  They also give advice on how to separate useful assignments from the time wasters.  Richard Louv, author of, Last Child in the Woods, argues that children suffer from a nature-deficit disorder. 

For preventing myopia, besides a low glycemic diet/ Paleolithic Diet, it seems that playing outside is also protective.  Researchers in Australia have found that kids who spend a lot of time outside have lower myopia rates. (Kid’s eyes need the great outdoors)   

I have previously blogged about The Freedom to Learn site.  Peter Gray has a series of articles which argue that play is essential for healthy human life, and maintaining a band’s existence.  John Holt takes a similar approach in his books, How Children Learn and How Children Fail, that children are natural learners, and the process of forcing them to learn in school changes their personalities for the worse.  David Elkind’s book, The Power of Play: How Spontaneous Imaginative Activities Lead to Happier Healthier Children, argues that play is changing from teaching children social roles, vocations, and academic skills to teaching them brand loyalty, fashion consciousness, and group think.  Matt Metzgar reviewed Susan Linn’s book, The Case for Make-Believe: Saving Play in a Commercialized World, which argues that many of today’s toys are scripted, and that they don’t foster the development of social and critical skills.  Matt also discussed this article, Sucker-Me Elmo, which questions the merits of electronic toys.  Meanwhile, New York City is developing the next generation playground, which is designed to foster the imagination of kids. (New York developing a next-generation playground)  Here is a site that features educational products for children We Make Stories, which allows the child to write and print their own stories.

It turns out that pedophiles don’t randomly search through MySpace sites searching for kids.  Instead they go for those kids in chat rooms who are presenting themselves in sexually suggestive ways. (Welcome to Crimes Against Children Research Center, and Salon – Stop Worrying about your Children)  This information is from the same woman who runs Free Range Kids, which I have written about before.  Boing Boing favorably reviewed this book, If Your Kid Eats this Book Everything will Still be Okay: How to Know if Your Child’s Injury or Illness is Really an Emergency by Lara Zibners.  Zibners is an emergency room pediatrician who says that 75% of late night emergency room visits are unnecessary, and this book is a guide to all the things you don’t have to worry about.

On the other hand, there are real risks out there, and Dreambaby makes safety products to help reduce these.  Science Daily has a story, Homes Need More Protection Against Falls, which points out that falls are the second leading cause of death among children, and that this is because many homes have inadequate protection against them.  Such homes are lacking such commonsense things as banisters, grab bars, anti-slip bathtub strips, and child safety gates.  Eco Child’s Play has a similar outlook, and advocates “Green Parenting for Non-Toxic Healthy Homes.”  This site focuses on alternative medicine, and sources of toxins from such things as plastics, medicines, and cleaners.  (See, for example: 12 Warnings for Parents and Kids in 2008, 10 Ways to Avoid Toxic Plastic - BPA (Bisphenol A), Synthetic Estrogens and Your Child, Smart Medicine for a Healthier Child, 9 Best Articles for Natural and Home Remedies on Echo Child’s Play in 2008, Another Reason We Can’t Trust the FDA, Melamine…, New Study Suggests Link Between Hairspray Exposure and Genital Birth Defect, How Safe is Your Child’s Playground?, Balloons Cause More Deaths than Marbles, and Finding Safer Products for our Children)  They also discuss products to make parent’s lives easier. (Postpartum Bamboo Belly Wrap Helps Shrink Your Belly and Prevent Stretch Marks, and Why Tilty is a Better Sippy

In recent years people have been taking bullying far more seriously, and researchers have found that, at least with rats, bullying might scar the brain for life.  When rats were bullied new brain nerve cells would form, but then die, and they acted depressed.  (Bullying May Scar Brain for Life

Psychologist Randall Flanery has this advice for being a great dad:  Run a benevolent dictatorship.  Be friendly, but not a friend.  Admit when you’re wrong.  Remain firmly flexible.  Stick around even when they don’t want you to.  Ask questions.  Don’t take it personally if they express unhappiness.  Know that parenting is 24/7, and then some.  Keep in mind that who you are is more important than what you buy them.  Laugh.  Of course, there is also the book, Supernanny: How to Get the Best from your Children by Jo Frost.  For the sport parent, there is Who’s Game is it Anyway: A Guide to Helping Your Child Get the Most From Sports, Organized by Age and Stage by Amy Baltzell.

Polyphasic Sleep

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

Polyphasic sleep is a pattern that involves sleeping multiple times in a 24 hour period.  Often this happens naturally, or for medical reasons, but at other times people engage in it deliberately.  One reason people do this is, if you can manage to keep up with a reasonably rigid nap schedule, you can function well with a total of 2 hours of sleep a day.  This pattern is only physiologically possible because, by sleeping for 20 minutes every 4 hours, you condition your body to enter REM sleep immediately. 

Steve Pavlina decided to experiment with it, and reports that it had a number of advantages.  While on this schedule he had very vivid memorable dreams.  He developed the ability to nap for a given period of time, and then the automatically wake up as he chose.  After a nap, to this day, he wakes up in a mellow and relaxed state in which ideas flow easily.  He gained 40 hours a week of extra time, and his sense of it changed from seeing time in terms of chunks divided up into days, to seeing it as a continuous flow.  Also, other people who have tried it report that they are more alert, have higher energy, and feel healthier.

In spite of these advantages, he eventually abandoned polyphasic sleep, basically because everyone else was monophasic.  Otherwise he reports he would have stayed on it.  The problems were that while on it he ended up spending a lot of time alone at night on the Internet.  He also had to fairly conscientiously keep to his nap schedule, which meant that everything he did was bracketed by the required naps every 4 hours.  This makes it somewhat difficult to have much of a social life.  Mr. Pavlina also points out that people don’t know what the long term medical consequences of this sort of sleep schedule are.

See: Polyphasic Sleep, Polyphasic Sleep – One Year Later, and Polyphasic Sleep: The Return to Monophasic all by Steve Pavlina.  See also: Uberman’s sleep schedule.

Sleeping Like a Hunter-Gatherer

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

I have previously blogged about sleep related topics.  Here is a question I sent to one of the leading experts on the bedding used by hunter-gatherers. (I think it was Carol Worthman):

As far as I can tell from online sources, ancient hunter gatherers slept on thin woven blankets, sticks, skins, leaves, and/or straw (or some combination of them).  Also, as far as I
have been able to determine, there is no good guidance at present from the medical community regarding the best sleeping mattresses and health.  Do you, or anyone else you could refer me to, have a
guess as to which of the modern mattress arrangements would be a close approximation to the rough average our ancestors (and their lower backs) evolved with?

“You ask an interesting and unusual question. My expertise extends just to what “traditional” peoples slept on, not to current bedding options. Definitely, today’s mattress that is
kept for years, filled pillows, and lots of (frequently washed) bedclothes were not the pattern in human paleohistory. Nomadic foraging peoples did/do not have permanent homes and
beds; rather, they usually sleep on the ground, with skins and/or leaves/boughs for some padding depending on how hard the substrate was/is. I would say that, on the whole, a firm,
only slightly yielding substrate was very common, whether on the ground or a mat/low platform. Pillows, as I noted in the paper, apparently were virtually non-existent, except the ones
in wood and, later, clay. All that said, I should also say that many traditional peoples suffer considerably with joint/muscle pain with aging. Did the sleeping substrates help prevent back problems to which humans are prone, or did daily activity and chronic load-bearing take care of that? As usual, as many questions as answers.”

Sleep Related Topics

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

Here is some information I’ve gathered on sleep related topics:

Recent research into non-Western cultures shows that people don’t usually sleep as modern Westerners do, “Slumber’s Unexplored Landscape,” a fact that could explain a few things.  For example, parents often complain when their teenager stays up all night and then sleeps during the day, but this backward shift in sleep timing might have evolutionary roots.  In the ancient days this variability in sleep schedules meant that someone in the ancient clan was always awake in case of danger.  Carol Worthman and Melissa Melby in, “Toward a Comparative Developmental Ecology of Human Sleep” (table 6.2), point out a number of potentially significant differences between Western and non-Western (more natural) sleeping patterns: non-Western are more social, noisier, not climate controlled, have fire present, are dynamic, and have more permeable boundaries.

While NASA might be very far removed from the hunter gatherer days, research seems to have led them back to the benefits of following another ancient sleeping pattern, the nap.  Because astronauts often can’t stick to an 8 hour sleep schedule, NASA did a lot of research on napping back in the 1990s, finding that 20 minute naps were optimal for helping working memory, “NASA Naps.” (also see: “How long do you sleep at night?” Tom’s comment at the end)  After realizing they could increase productivity some companies began allowing  naps and even providing nap rooms, “Believers in midday doze are stripping away stigma of siestas.”

In addition to breaking up your day with a nap, the most natural pattern of sleep at night might be two periods of sleep with an in-between wakeful period, sometimes called the “watching period.”  This might have put ancient people in better touch with their dream world:

“In addition to the daytime nap, a nighttime short period of wakefulness, about 5 to 20 minutes in the middle of the sleeping period is also an evolutionary adaptation.  Many people have this and consider it an intrusion on normal sleep but it is as natural and normal and healthy as a midday nap.” – James O’Keefe

One fellow, Daniel Web, decided he was tired of having a sore back, so he custom designed his own mattress and bet, “The Ultimate Sturdy Bed:”

“I have never been satisfied with my bed, so I spent a lot of time figuring out what would make the ultimate bed and building it. My wife and I both have some lower back pain, and the bed you sleep on can make a huge difference in how much that affects you in the morning.

Summary: I sleep on a two-layer foam bed. The top layer is two inches of “Sensus” 5 pound high-density viscoelastic from Foamex, and the base layer is three inches of “Q-41″ polyurethane foam from Carpenter Foam. I built my own platform bed frame and have free plans and pictures of it. I highly recommend the Tempur-pedic original pillows.”

Given how unhealthy our modern lifestyle is, it isn’t surprising that this report says that many Americans are so sleepy they aren’t having much sex, “Americans Too Sleepy for Sex, Poll Finds.”

To avoid morning grogginess, there is now a clock that monitors your brain waves and wakes you up during the lightest phase of sleep, “The clock that wakes you when you are ready.”

Looking for insights even further outside recent Western experience, researchers are now spending considerable time studying the nature of animal’s sleep, “Down for the Count.” 

Finally, for anyone who wants resources on sleep in general, “The National Sleep Foundation” site is a good starting place, and the NIH has this publication, “Your Guide to Healthy Sleep.”